Haven’t they got anything useful to do?

by Stephen Tall on July 11, 2007

Sometimes I despair of MPs.

Today, the Culture, Media and Sport select committee published a highly self-serving report accusing the Press Complaints Commission of failing to protect Kate Middleton (Prince William’s current/former girl-friend, M’Lud) from harassment by paparazzi photographers:

The Press Complaints Commission took too long to act to protect Kate Middleton from clear and persistent harassment.

Let me make it clear from the start – I have a lot of sympathy with Ms Middleton. Living your life in the public eye simply because you rather fancy the heir-to-the-throne-but-one cannot be much fun, and has doubtless put a huge strain on their relationship. The tabloid press – which clearly includes snide, gossipy titles like the Mail and Times – deliberately makes the lives of many of those in the public eye a needless misery. Their muck-spreading soils us all.

But the PCC is underpinned by an important principle – that it acts solely on the basis of a complaint made by the individual or their representative. It does not accept third party complaints, nor does it intervene of its own volition. This has to be the right and proper way. It is certainly the only practical way.

However, this is not enough for the select committee’s band of something-must-be-done worthies, who assert:

The PCC appears to have waited for a complaint to materialise: it could and should have intervened sooner.

Are our MPs seriously suggesting the PCC should have made an exception to their published code of practice for Ms Middleton? (Whose interests, it should be added, have been well-represented by a firm of solicitors, Harbottle and Lewis.)

Do our MPs seriously expect the PCC to intervene each time they somehow divine an individual is feeling harassed, even though they haven’t yet made a complaint? If they do, perhaps they could draw up the criteria by which the PCC can objectively decide in which cases to intervene, and in which to wait for a complaint.

Of course, the MPs who wrote the report understand only too well that what they are demanding is utterly unworkable. Their concluding two sentences are the most pusillanimous on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other cop-out imaginable:

The Commission should be readier to depart from its usual practice of issuing a desist notice only in response to a request. However, we recognise the force of the argument that an individual who seeks the protection of the PCC should make a formal complaint.

But that doesn’t matter to those MPs responsible. They got a cheap headline, which is what they wanted – their job is done, their work complete.

I’m sure they won’t fully appreciate the irony that the only point of their report into press intrusion has been to quench their own lust for media aggrandisement.