Press Complaints Commission: defending legitimate journalism

Lord Hunt: Current chairman of the Press Complaints Commission: pic courtesy: The Guardian

It may be unfashionable to say this right now,but this is a blog to say how well and fair the Press Complaints Commission handled a complaint against me this summer.

I was not even a party to the complaint which was between Matt Sprake, a former police photographer, and the Independent Newspaper but the content of his entire complaint was against me over a story that appeared under my name and Oliver Wright which I had researched and published on Exaro  News . (see http://www.exaronews.net for full story and pcc’s findings).

Basically  through Exaro News we revealed  how Sprake’s picture agency, NewsPics, offered to pay thousands of pounds to public officials – from nurses to police workers – for inside information on celebrities. Sprake denied he had ever paid anyone.

The offer was made explicitly on the agency’s website.

Matt Sprake: PIc courtesy of Hacked Off website

The disclosure led to Sprake being summoned by Lord Leveson to appear before his inquiry and provide information on the huge scale of his  work for Trinity Mirror which Lloyd Embley, then editor of the People, had omitted to tell them.

Sprate lodged a complaint to the PCC claiming that  breached the editors’ code of conduct. He claimed that the article contained inaccuracies and intruded into his private life, and that I had used subterfuge to gain information about his past career in the police.

The PCC dismissed each element of Sprake’s complaint particularly suggestions that his family had been put at risk by the disclosure that he had photographed terrrorist sites. The findings said:

“He considered that the information relating to his former employment by Scotland Yard in anti-terrorism activities was sensitive and confidential.”

But the PCC concludes: “The complainant had volunteered information about his former work with the police, including that he had been ‘looking at terrorism work’, to the journalist, whom he had taken to be a potential client, and was a stranger to him; and that the information amounted to a statement of his former occupation.

“In addition, in light of the statement published on the website, which suggested police officers contacted the company with information, and the on-going public scrutiny and debate over the links between the police and the Press, there was a public interest in revealing the complainant’s former work with the police.”

Sprake also complained that I had tricked him in a telephone conversation into revealing his past career in the police. The PCC said that Sprake was confused about the purpose of the reporter’s telephone call to him, but concludes: “The commission could not therefore agree that the reporter had engaged in misrepresentation or subterfuge.”

Sprake was asked for comment on the findings and he said: “None at all.”

Now the good  and fair thing  about this judgement is that the PCC did not fall for such sweeping complaints from someone who had already admitted to Leveson about how he pursued the McCanns seeking intrusive photos when they had not wanted them on a  Canadian holiday. But I also had to justify  everything I had written – and had kept a recording of the call. The whole point of chasing him up was to allow him to give me his side and to be absolutely certain from his own words that he was an ex  police photographer.

The irony about all this is that PCC is certain to be abolished by Leveson in its present form because of the ” phone hacking ” scandal. Yet they have handled this well. Whatever  replaces the PCC must both safeguard the public from the worst excesses of bad  and inaccurate journalism  but equally protect  genuine investigative  journalism from unfounded claims from unscrupulous complainants. Over to you, my Lord.

7 thoughts on “Press Complaints Commission: defending legitimate journalism

  1. David, I’m very pleased to hear it. We’re almost on opposite ends of the political sprectrum, but I’ve felt for a long time, that your everything a good journalist should be. I raise my pint of Harveys to you.

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