How should press complaints be mediated?

How should press complaints be mediated?

by Andy Rogers, Associate Director and Mediator, CEDR

In the wake of the News of The World ‘phone hacking’ scandal at the end of last week and in defence of itself in the face of criticism from political leaders in Westminster, the UK’s Press Complaints Commission (PCC) cited the fact that it had successfully mediated hundreds of complaints by the public.

That’s great – being a needs-based confidential resolution process, mediation is far more likely to leave both parties with a satisfactory resolution – in this instance resulting in corrections being made and sometimes financial settlement. Through our own mediation service at CEDR Solve, we have conducted many hundreds of mediations for media and press disputes and know that with the right, experienced mediators it is possible to achieve a very high settlement rate.

The first thing to say about the PCC is that it is a small organisation (a secretariat of 16 staff) with a big role, therefore undertaking the work it does, including adjudications and mediations, is a big challenge.  However, given the importance of mediation to its work I decided to search for the word “mediation” on its website – that brought 23 mentions of mediation from more than a decade’s worth of material (most referring to particular cases). When I searched for the word “mediator” I found no results at all.

So, as a mediator, there are a number of questions that naturally come to my mind about mediation at the PCC: under what guidelines or principles are the mediations undertaken; who are their mediators; how are they trained and more importantly how are they assessed and monitored?

These questions are given added significance by the announcement last month that The Ministry of Justice plans “to stop abuse of Britain’s libel laws” (according to the Daily Mail) by sending claimants to the PCC, “forcing the rich and famous to go through mediation before they can sue a newspaper”.  Is it now time to ask if this the right approach or are there better and more effective alternatives?

So whether it is able to survive the current maelstrom that encircles the media and political life or not, there are still important questions around the PCC or whatever replaces it, regarding mediating disputes with the public.  We now have an opportunity to ensure for the future that when disputes with the press are mediated there will be standards of the quality for the mediation process and that there will be monitoring of the panel of mediators used.

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