A question for Leveson: Why should specialist publishers stay in the PCC?

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Neil Thackray, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, B2B Media

Update: Scroll down to see the PCC's reaction to Neil's article.

Original: In the office today I noticed an invoice from PRESSBOF. On inspection I realised this was a demand for payment of a registration fee “to cover the funding of the Press Complaints Commission.”

As a new business, we are probably more diligent than most at inspecting and querying invoices. We are certainly very focussed on getting value from every pound we spend.

I was surprised to learn that Briefing Media, a small B2B media company, were even covered by the remit of the PCC. I was even more surprised to learn that the “levy”, will cost us £1,812 a year. A modest sum you might think. However when I checked with our team, no one could remember an occasion when a complaint had been made to the PCC about the titles we now own.

On further digging, I discover that the “levy” is voluntary. A quick tour of the PCC website proved even more interesting. As far as I can tell from the data available on the PPC site, there has been only ever been one complaint about a business to business title since 2009. We called the PCC press office to see if they could confirm this. They could not. The commission doesn't even consider B2B complaints important enough to have its own category.  (The PCC did later get in touch - see its response to this below)

There seems to be little point in belonging to a regulatory body that does no work, or has no need to do any work on our behalf.

More bizarre still is the fee structure. Our title Farmers Guardian is expected to pay £446 every six months. The Radio Times will pay £734 twice a year. Heat magazine, about which there have been eight complaints over the years, according to PCC statistics, pays just £445 every six months.

Daily newspapers pay much more, of course, but it seems to me that the B2B media industry is subsidising the investigation of complaints into other media whilst its own probity in matters journalistic is substantially beyond reproach. I have no interest in subsidising the policing of phone hacking journalists, or door stepping reporters anymore than would the directors of Tesco.

I am not even convinced that the PCC levy is relevant to most consumer magazines. In the last month (April 2012) that the PCC website published a list of case summaries only eight of 402 complaints received were about magazines. The remainder were all related to national or regional newspapers.

When Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations are finally published, let’s hope the funding of the PCC is more rationally thought through. Meanwhile I shan’t be paying the levy and I challenge any B2B media company to justify why they should either.

Update: The PCC's communications director Jonathan Collett got in touch on Monday to make a few points - mainly that there have been complaints about B2B titles, but no more than one after 2009. Here's the text of his email: 

You noted that "a quick tour" of the PCC website's data suggested "there has been only ever been one complaint about a business to business title”. This is not correct. There have in fact been a number of complaints about B2B publications over the years (though the figure is small when compared to complaints about national and regional/local newspapers). Our records show that approximately 5% of all complaints to the PCC are about magazines. Complaints are categorised by broad headings rather than by more detailed sub-categories (i.e. ‘magazines’ generally as opposed to B2B, consumer etc). However, we are certainly committed to improving information about what we do and how we work and the new system of press regulation will hopefully have regard for this in due course.

Further, as you know, information about some cases (those that are resolved or adjudicated) is provided in full on the PCC website. In other cases (in particular, those that are found not to breach the terms of the Editors’ Code, or those that are not pursued by the complainant for example), a short summary is provided in the monthly complaints summaries: http://pcc.org.uk/cases/monthlycomplaintssummaries.html). These summaries have been published since 2009 as a means of showing a fuller range of the PCC’s work). As such, information about complaints about B2B titles before this date is not in the public domain in the same way, but of course that does not mean that complaints were not received and considered fully by the Commission.

Neil Thackray is co-founder of Briefing Media, the parent company of TheMediaBriefing.com.

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