“Critics of current press self-regulation may feel it is on its way out but editors are clearly determined to save it from destruction.” [1]

In light of growing concern regarding the practices of the British press, significant amendments to the Editors’ Code of Practice, to which British newspapers and magazines voluntarily subscribe to and which is enforced by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), took effect from 1 January 2012.

Following consultation with industry members and the PCC, the Editors’ Code Committee has announced that editors who breach the Code will now be required to publish the PCC’s critical adjudication in full and with due prominence agreed with the PCC’s Director.

Code Committee Chairman Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail and Editor in Chief of Associated Newspapers, stated that rules requiring editors running corrections to agree prominence with the PCC in advance” had been introduced last year and had “helped to kill the myth that they are routinely buried in the paper.” Dacre added, “Now we have brought the publication of critical adjudications more in line with that. It should dispose of another misconception.”

In addition, new public interest rules will require editors who claim that a breach of the Code was in the public interest to show, not only that they had good reason to believe the public interest would be served, but how and with whom that was established at the time. This is a practice already adopted by the BBC in its Editorial Guidelines.

Dacre stated that the new public interest rule “underwrites the need for editors and senior executives to give proper consideration before they consciously decide to breach the Code” and was careful to add that “This measure should be a safeguard, not a burden.”

The Editors’ Code of Practice has also come under scrutiny from UKnewspaper editors who have been giving evidence in relation to press ethics at the Leveson Enquiry. Editors argued that the Code represented a benchmark for journalistic professionalism which was widely respected and, in many cases, absorbed into the newspapers’ own code of conduct. Despite this, the overwhelming feeling was that the PCC needed to be toughened up and had lost credibility since its handling of the phone hacking scandal. However, it was also pointed out that “one of the difficulties of the PCC is that it stands condemned for things it was never able to do”. In other words, “to criticise the PCC for powers it doesn’t have is like criticising a judge for passing a lenient sentence when he doesn’t have those powers.” [2]

Comment on the amended Code has been limited as the practical effects of the changes have yet to be seen. However, it has been argued that the changes serve to reinforce the centrality of the Press Complaints Commission to the process. Or, in other words, “The Dacre message to Lord Justice Leveson and his team of advisers could not be more obvious: despite the axe swinging over self-regulation, it’s business as usual here.” [3]

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether these changes will help to restore faith in the beleaguered PCC or come to represent a final swig in the “Last – Chance Saloon” [4].


[1] “Why editors have made two key changes to their code of practice”, 21 December 2011, Roy Greensalde, Guardian

[2] Evidence provided at the Leveson Enquiry by Tony Gallagher, Editor, Daily Telegraph

[3] “Why editors have made two key changes to their code of practice”, 21 December 2011, Roy Greensalde, Guardian

[4] Comment made by David Mellor, 1989

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