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Press body looks at its naughty bits as hacking scandal grinds on

PCC to review journos' code, backtracks on prior report clearing NotW

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The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is to review the rules that govern press behaviour in the UK to maintain public confidence in newspapers in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, it has said.

The self-regulatory industry body, which deals with complaints about content in newspapers and magazines, said that it will identify what changes can be made to the Editors' Code of Practice. It said changes were required to improve the public's confidence in how the press is governed.

The Editors' Code is a set of standards for editors and journalists. It sets out behaviour journalists should observe when reporting and includes rules on accuracy, intrusion into grief and privacy and secret recordings.

"Public members of the Commission will lead a review of all aspects of press regulation in its current form, which will be designed to ensure that public confidence is enhanced," the PCC said in a statement.

"The Commission will wish to review its own constitution and funding arrangements, the range of sanctions available to it, and its practical independence," the PCC statement said.

The PCC said it would review the Code following an announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron that there would be a public inquiry into phone hacking practices by the media.

The hacking of phones is a crime under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

Under RIPA both the hacker of a mobile phone and those who commissioned the hacking would face the risk of prosecution. The law does not give the accused the right to claim the hacking activity was conducted in the public interest.

The Metropolitan Police (the Met) has been investigating allegations that journalists at the News of the World (NotW) newspaper commissioned private investigator Glenn Mulcaire to access voicemail messages left on mobile phones.

Mulcaire is alleged to have hacked into phones belonging to a number of individuals including murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and victims of the 2007 London terrorist bombings.

The Met reopened an investigation into phone hacking in January after it said it had received "significant new information" about cases. An original investigation led to the prosecution of Mulcaire and NotW royal correspondent Clive Goodman who were both jailed in 2007 for hacking into the phones of royal staff.

In May, the High Court ruled that a judicial review should take place to review police handling of the investigations.

The PCC said phone hacking was "unacceptable" and that News International, the owners of the NotW, had "undermined assurances" it had given over the activity in the past.

It said it could no longer stand by a report it previously published that had said there was no evidence the NotW misled them when it had investigated phone hacking activities against the paper.

The PCC said it welcomed the announcement that there would be an inquiry into phone hacking and said that it would act to change how press behaviour was governed.

"The PCC is determined to identify necessary reforms that will guarantee public confidence in press regulation," Baroness Buscombe, the PCC chairman said.

"There is currently a major police investigation, which has the necessary powers of investigation and resources to identify the perpetrators of these criminal acts," Baroness Buscombe said.

"However, the Commission is determined to play its part in bringing to a conclusion this shocking chapter, which has stained British journalism, and to ensure that good comes out of it."

"The status quo is clearly not an option, and we need to identify how the model of an independent PCC can be enhanced best to meet these challenges. Hence the action we have taken," the PCC chairman said.

The inquiry into phone hacking should include a review of the role the PCC plays in regulating the press, MPs said in a House of Commons debate on Wednesday.

Currently the PCC can "name and shame" publications that break the Editors' Code and ask them to publish apologies, but it has no legal powers to enforce punishments such as fines for violations of the Code.

Alun Michael MP described the PCC as a "joke" and said that the PCC should be given new powers to regulate the press.

"The Press Complaints Commission clearly has neither the will nor the capacity to change things, but we need to take care: statutory regulation of the press and media could endanger press independence, which would be a massive mistake. We need an independent body, but one that is robust and effective and has the powers to investigate and enforce," Michael said in the debate.

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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