You might think that any institution dedicated to upholding an industry's code of practice would want to be clear how many times that code was broken and which companies were the most frequent offenders. Not the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
Answering questions before the Commons media select committee this week, the PCC director, Michael McManus, seemed surprised when MPs suggested that such data would be valuable to the public:
"I think they're put out in public, I mean we're not a secretive organisation. I mean you know this is publicly available information and you know, people are free to analyse it in ways they want. I don't think it should be seen as some sort of conspiracy or witholding of information."
But it's not an oversight or an accident that the PCC fails to spell out to the public which newspapers attract the most complaints and which papers breach the code most often.
Look at this table of complaints about UK national daily and Sunday newspapers for 2013, compiled by Hacked Off from the PCC Monthly Complaint Summaries, and you will soon get an idea of who benefits if the public doesn't see these figures.
(It may be of interest that the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, sits on the committee, called PressBoF, that dominates the PCC. He also chairs the Editors' Code Committee. Meanwhile, one of the three directors of the company that owns both the PCC and its planned successor, IPSO, is Peter Wright, editor emeritus at the Mail group.)
The PCC has been told to change, and has refused. The PCC chair, Lord Hunt, who is ultimately responsible for the published statistics, told MPs he had read the whole Leveson Report. Among the parts he seems to have missed is this one:
The PCC has not been transparent about its own performance and the performance of newspapers. Figures published purporting to demonstrate both were not easy to understand, meaning that the public could not readily assess the performance of the PCC in particular or of the newspapers which came into contact with it. - Source, p1559
And this one:
Further, the PCC have failed to publish aggregate figures for complaints made against newspapers, meaning that neither the public nor policy-makers could get any idea of which publications were most regularly in breach of the Editors' Code of Conduct. - Source, p1560
And here is the verdict of a select committee report from 2010:
Controversy over the PCC's complaints activity arises in part from the manner in which the PCC presents its complaints statistics in its annual and biannual reports, and we recommend that the PCC should conduct a review of this matter with a view to ensuring maximum clarity. - Source, p128
It is obvious that the PCC's mission is to do the opposite of the naming and shaming that many national newspapers insist is so important in other walks of life. Instead the PCC covers up.
And since it has been so dogged in ignoring demands for change, and since Mr McManus - who is in charge of 'transition' to IPSO - has clearly still not got the message, we may confidently expect IPSO to carry on covering up in this way.
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