For those readers interested in Funny British Ways, here is another one.

We here have a body called the Press Complaints Commission which presides over a Code of Practice giving some rather specific guidleines on how the ‘press’ whould behave. Here they are.

If a member of the public is unhappy with the way a media outlet has behaved, s/he may complain to the PCC. If the complaint is upheld:

5. Complaint upheld

If the Commission concludes that the Code has been breached (and the breach has not – or cannot – be remedied) it will uphold your complaint in a public ruling. The newspaper or magazine is obliged to publish the critical ruling in full and with due prominence. This is a serious outcome for any editor and puts down a marker for future press behaviour.

Quite why this is a ‘serious’ outcome for any editor is not quite clear to me.

But if you are unhappy with the PCC you can complain about them too, to the grandly titled Charter Commissioner – none other than my friend from my Bosnia times, Lt Gen Sir Michael Willcocks. He will make some very grand findings indeed.

I mention all this because Martin Belam looks at the PCC in the context of that Daily Mail article by Jan Moir. The PCC has seen 21,000+ complaints lodged about it.

Martin also links to this piece by Sarah Hartley on the Fifth Estate.

Am I missing something?

If newspapers want to set up Codes of Conduct on how eg they report goings-on in hospitals and schools and generally behave, with a view to meeting what they decide are ‘the highest professional standards’, let them get on with it.

If they then fail to meet those standards, the public will no doubt notice and make their purchasing decisions and allocate their time accordingly.

The point is that a PCC-like organisation comes from the days when there were relatively few media outlets, with relatively few ways for the public to express dissatisfaction. Thus some sort of lofty ‘establishment’ arrangement was needed to keep a ‘balance’.

Has it worked? How would we know?

One argument might be that without the PCC the media would spiral to the bottom of the populist cess-pit. Well, some outlets would, and some would not, fighting to keep a good market share by being honest and sensible. Plus we had rampant scurrilous pamphleteering and general free-press anarchy a couple of hundred years ago and yet we survived. 

Today so much TV and newspaper output is riddled with error, dumbing-down or prejudice/bias (and perhaps it always has been) that the idea of ‘high professional standards’ in this sector seems somewhat far-fetched. If the PCC were tasked to deal properly with every complaint on this score, it would seize up in minutes.

Martin Belam:

Perhaps the most useful thing to come out of this will be wider public awareness of just how ineffective press self-regulation is about handling complaints on the grounds of taste and decency when widespread offence has been caused to an audience not directly involved in the story.

Indeed. Plus how many of those unhappy with the Mail on this and other counts are regular Daily Mail readers and actually buy the newspaper?

Maybe these days a storm of emails and twittering and the other phenomena of the Internet age are as good as anything else at alerting editors to a sense that maybe they have got something wrong in their output, and so risk losing readers/markets? 

In other words, no PCC ‘reform’ is needed? 

Instead let the so-called professional media be free to sink and/or swim and/or be obnoxious and/or make a fool of themselves.

Just like the rest of us?