UK Politics

Daily Politics Soapbox: Sir Christopher Meyer on the PCC

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Media captionSir Christopher Meyer on the future of the PCC

Sir Christopher Meyer tells the BBC's Daily Politics the phone-hacking allegations could see the end of the press regulatory body that he used to chair:

The victims of the great phone-hacking scandal have been queuing up in their dozens to receive generous compensation from News International.

But there is one victim which is more likely to be punished, even liquidated. That is the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). I was its chairman when the phone-hacking affair first broke in 2006.

It's a bum rap. It has been politically expedient to make the PCC the whipping boy for the failures of a police investigation. Phone-hacking is a criminal offence.

The PCC's job is not to enforce the criminal law. Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were found guilty under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. That's why they went to prison.

Of course, the PCC also bans phone-hacking, unless the public interest justifies it.

But when its Code of Practice overlaps with the law, the law must take precedence. The PCC could make no investigation of its own until the legal process was exhausted.

The PCC's report, published in May 2007, soon after the imprisonment of Goodman and Mulcaire, focused on lessons to be learned and and new rules for the employment of inquiry agents by newspapers.

That's what the PCC is for. People forget that the report was widely welcomed by the government, MPs and - pass the smelling salts - the Guardian.

X-ray eyes

Yet, today this is judged not to have been good enough.

The PCC should have had, so say the critics, quasi-police powers of investigation and enforcement. But that means state regulation of the press and further erosion of our liberties.

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Media captionJuly 2011: PCC chairman Baroness Buscombe on the Daily Politics about phone hacking

The commission should have known what was going on. But that would have needed a commissar in the newsroom with telepathic powers and X-ray eyes.

The PCC should be disbanded? Well, then, so should the police, because they can't stop crime, or the church, because sin is ever with us.

The pity of it all is that phone-hacking is a distraction from what needs to be done to strengthen self-regulation's effectiveness.

Meanwhile, the PCC has never been more used by the public than it is today.

What an irony that Leveson should be questioning its very existence.

* Sir Christopher will appear on Wednesday's Daily Politics around 1240 BST to debate the ideas in his film with Conservative MP Francis Maude and Labour's Rachel Reeves. The programme runs on BBC Two from 1130 to 1300 and is available later on iPlayer.

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