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Regulators on the rack over phone hacking

5 July 2011

1:09 PM

5 July 2011

1:09 PM

The latest, hideous developments in the phone hacking scandal are emblazoned across all this morning’s papers — all, that is, expect the tabloids. And our political leadership is putting
voice to its concerns, too. Only this morning, David Cameron said of the allegations surrounding the News of the World that, "If they are true, this is a truly dreadful act and a truly
dreadful situation." And Ed Miliband has since given an atypically
firm and assertive interview
, calling on Rebekah Brooks to "consider her conscience and consider her position." Perhaps he was stung by Tom Watson’s criticism, last night, that all
three party leaders have "let the Dowler family down" by not calling for a public inquiry.


But perhaps the most telling intervention has come from Peta Buscombe, the chairwoman of the Press Complaints Commission, who appeared on the Daily Politics earlier. Asked by Andrew Neil what her
organisation has done to either expose or discipline those involved in phone hacking, she could only offer what sounded like a catalogue of evasions and failures: "We are working on
that…"; "We have established new edicts…"; "Who knows if there are other papers who have lied?"; "Words cannot describe how angry I am"; and so on.
It floundered to a head when Neil pushed her for one, solid accomplishment on the PCC’s part so far. "I have revealed," said Buscombe in response, "that I and the Press Complaints
Committee were misled by the News of the World." Hm.

To be fair, Buscombe may have had a point when she said that, "there is only so much we can do when this is a criminal investigation covering criminal activity." But it’s still damning
that the country’s press regulator was completely blind to the scale of the scandal until other newspapers, lawyers and the police revealed it to them, and has been too inconsequential to properly
act since. So many questions arise from the phone hacking affair, from how far it spreads, to the links between politicians and the media. But among the most significant is whether the PCC —
and the idea of self-regulation — ought to be done away with and replaced.


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