Self-regulation of the press?

Submitted by Matthew on 20 July, 2011 - 11:58

In October 1992 the Independent on Sunday (IoS) published a smear article by its then political editor Stephen Castle suggesting without evidence that sympathisers of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and other leftists had tried to rig ballots (in Sheffield) for the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

We wrote a letter stating that the claim was nonsense; we oppose rigging elections. Our letter was printed, but edited in such a way that it made little sense.

The cheating charge was taken up by other papers, including the local Sheffield Star.

Socialist Organiser, our paper at the time, had been banned by the Labour Party in 1990. Those seen selling it could be expelled. We were particularly strong in Sheffield where members were kicked out from the local parties. It was in the interest of those looking for a purge to make and circulate these allegations.

The AWL was not rich enough to sue Stephen Castle for libel. We campaigned to clear our name but we also looked for other avenues to make our case. We took the issue to the Press Complaints Commission.

As part of making our case to the PCC I talked to Stephen Castle on the phone. He was whiney and squirming. “What do you want from me?” he asked (some honesty perhaps?).

I taped our conversation where he admitted that he had no evidence for the charge against us. He could not tell me the name of anyone alleged to have taken part in the ballot rigging. He had no serious explanation for why he had written the article in the first place.

I sent a copy of the tape and a transcript (in case they were too lazy to listen) to the PCC. Surely we had nailed Castle?

But the PCC thought otherwise. They said that we’d had our letter printed and that was the end of the matter.

At the time the PCC were finding for less than 1% of all complainants. I had the impression that unless a paper accused the Queen Mother of having sex with corgi dogs (without photographic evidence), the PCC would let the press off.

Capitalist “self-regulation” of the press is a joke. It allows a veneer of “responsibility” to cloak all sorts of nonsense and bad behaviour by the press bosses.

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