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Northern & Shell publications (screenshot detail above) will not be regulated by the PCC anymore. (Credit: Northern & Shell)

The seven print publications owned by UK media company Northern & Shell are no longer under the jurisdiction of media regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission, the PCC announced yesterday.

Northern & Shell is the parent company for The Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Star on Sunday, New magazine, Star magazine and OK! magazine.

The newspapers were ousted after the company, owned by Richard Desmond, didn’t pay dues to the group that funds the PCC.

In a statement, the PCC’s chairman, Baroness Peta Buscombe, called the move “disappointing” :

“It is disappointing that Northern & Shell no longer wishes to provide funding for the PCC and be part of the system of self-regulation. This means that they will not now be able to demonstrate to their readers that they are committed to adhere to the set of standards which are independently enforced by the Commission.

“We hope that they will resume their subscription to PressBof as soon as possible. In the meantime, the PCC will continue to work to consider complaints against all other major publishers, both national and regional. We will also continue our proactive programme to offer guidance on editorial issues and train journalists within the system, and to raise standards in the industry.”

The media company didn’t pay the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), which funds the PCC.  The PressBof serves as a middle man between the PCC and media companies “to preserve [the PCC’s] independence.”

“Both PressBof and the Editors’ Code Committee operate separately to the PCC and are not involved in the day-to-day running of the PCC,” according to the PCC.  Further, the PressBof is the group that decided Northern and Shell would not longer be a part of its “system of industry self regulation.”

According to the PCC, “the recent independent Governance Review,” advised that any “publisher who persistently withholds funding for the PCC should be considered outside the self-regulatory process.”

The PCC also noted it was the second time since 2008 that Northern and Shell  didn’t pay its dues and that the membership “lapsed” Dec. 31.

The PressBof’s chairman, Lord Black of Brentwood, stated:

“This deeply regrettable decision to exclude Northern & Shell from the system was taken only as a last resort following the publisher’s decision not to pay the industry levy which funds the work of the PCC. Payment of this levy is a vital sign not just of a publisher’s commitment to the Code of Practice and the ethical standards contained in it, but also of a commitment to the protection of the public, as it is the levy which allows the PCC to deal with complaints it receives free of charge.

“The rest of the industry – covering the overwhelming majority of the newspapers and magazines produced in the UK – remains totally committed to effective self regulation, to the Code of Practice, and to the work of the independent PCC under the Chairmanship of Baroness Buscombe. As a result, the PCC’s funding will be unaffected by the move, and the public will continue to receive the exceptionally high standards of service that have become the hallmark of the Commission.”

Press Gazette noted that other UK media outlet groups spoke out in “support for the current system of self-regulation.”

The Newspaper Publishers’ Association’s chairman , Clive Milner, stated: “The PCC exists to ensure national newspapers conform to clear editorial standards which are independently regulated. All NPA members are committed to upholding this system of press self-regulation which protects and serves members of the public so effectively and maintains a free, responsible press.”

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The Newspaper Society’s president, Georgina Harvey, reportedly noted that the PCC is used by more than 1,000 local publications.

“Over 1,000 regional and local newspaper titles subscribe to the self-regulatory process and agree to be bound by PCC decisions for the benefit of the public.  For the regional and local media sector it is business as usual – independent and responsible journalism subject to adjudication by the PCC.”

And, theScottish Newspaper Society’s president, Michael Johnston, called leaving the PCC system “illogical.”  Johnston stated:

“The raison d’être of the PCC is a deep-seated belief in the importance of freedom of the press and thus in self-regulation.  It is illogical for any publisher to withdraw from the system and thereby deny readers of his publications the right to an independent means of resolving complaints.”

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade noted that the “annual voluntary industry levy” to the PressBof is “estimated at somewhere between £150,000 and £200,000.”

Greenslade also noted that “Desmond has a record of failing to pay industry bodies.”  According to Greenslade, the Express Group Newspapers reportedly didn’t pay fees to and was kicked out of the Newspaper Publishers Association in 2008.

In a separate blog, Greenslade commented on “the implications of the exclusion of Richard Desmond’s newspapers and magazines from the system of press self-regulation.”  Greenslade opined that dropping the Northern & Shell group “represents a significant breach in the industry’s virtually unanimous acceptance of self-regulation.”

He went on to further call Desmond “a rogue owner running rogue newspapers.”  According to Greenslade, “The Star and Express have between them paid out more in libel damages than any other papers in Britain.”

The Independent noted that “The system of self-regulation is already under considerable pressure.” As an example, the Independent highlighted criticism of the PCC for not “tackling the excesses of tabloid behaviour,” specifically the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

According to the Independent, the PCC’s Lord Black explained that dropping the Northern & Shell group won’t cause any problems for the PCC’s funding.

Greenslade reported that a politician called the ousting of Northern & Shell “a very serious development.” The politician, John Whittingdale, is the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee, and reportedly stated:

“I regard the exclusion as a very serious development. The committee is on record as saying that if self-regulation is to have any credibility it must encompass all the major publishers. This now creates doubt about its efficacy.”

iMediaEthics has written about the Northern & Shell publications previously.  In November 2010, The Guardian’s Greenslade criticized the Daily Star for using a still from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video in its comparison to the victims of 2005 bombings.

In October, the Daily Star fell for a hoax story that the Chilean mine that trapped miners for more than two months would be turned into a theme park.  The Star also published an apology and paid damages after printing another hoax story that there would be a video game inspired by a real-life shooting rampage.

We wrote in August when the Express promoted a solar power company in an advertorial.

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Daily Star Ousted from UK Press Complaints Commission

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