The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) has responded to Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the culture, practices and ethics of the press, following a consultation with members of its PR Council.
PRCA director deneral Francis Ingham issued comments following a survey of 110 PRCA members which found that over half of respondents favoured either a non-statutory newspaper ombudsman (26 per cent) or launching a new Press Complaints Commission with tougher powers (31 per cent), over statutory underpinning.
In light of the figures Ingham said that there was an agreement that there needed to be a stronger independent regulatory body, but that they “do not agree that there is a need for legislative underpinning, nor for Ofcom or any other statutory body to recognise the work of the regulator.”
Ingham went on to say: “Statutory underpinning to deal with a handful of recalcitrant journalists in an industry which broadly functions well would be the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut. The majority of our press act responsibly already and will continue to do so.
“A free press holds the PR industry and those that it represents to account, and we believe that the healthiest environment for our industry is one where there is public trust in our communications.”
Social media did not feature highly in Leveson’s report, it is “the elephant in the room” “said Ingham, “a minefiled and governance needs to catch up”. He went on to say believe that: “if you want to clean up journalism, you need to tackle online content too, or you just shift the problem online and create a two tier system.”
Speaking on the relationship between the press and politicians Ingham commented: “The media and journalists are formidable lobbyists, but there is a genuine difficulty in distinguishing where media organisations are engaging with politicians as corporate lobbyists and where they are engaging with politicians in the pursuit of news.
“This is where the Government’s proposals for a statutory register of lobbying can help. The PRCA is at the forefront of pushing the Government to make good on their promise to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists as a way to promote greater transparency, and in a way where it is the ‘act of lobbying’ that triggers the need to register.
“Thus anyone lobbying rather than reporting would be required by law to register themselves as a lobbyist, including editors, CEOs and MDs of media organisations.
“However, it is important that media businesses are treated in the same way as all other organisations looking to influence policy, politics and politicians, because there shouldn’t be one rule for media businesses and a different rule for other companies.”