Sir Christopher Meyer

Chairman, The Press Complaints Commission. 'Who Rules Britain: the City, Fleet Street or Downing Street?' was the subject given to Meyer by the headhunters Odgers.

by Khalid Aziz
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

'Who Rules Britain: the City, Fleet Street or Downing Street?' was the subject given to Meyer by the headhunters Odgers, but he talked about the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) with only a passing nod to the question.

Yet he didn't disappoint. His laconic style - honed, no doubt, in the diplomatic service - struck the right chord with an audience interested in the inner workings of government. Meyer revealed that on becoming press secretary to John Major, he suggested press coverage by the lobby hacks had been 'pungent'. 'Pungent?' replied Major. 'Putrid, more like!' Audiences lap up this insider stuff.

And so to the PCC. Self-regulation wasn't perfect but, like democracy, it's the best thing compared to the alternatives. The small permanent staff of 12 - compared to 900 at broadcasting regulator Ofcom - dealt with nearly 4,000 complaints last year, 98% of them from ordinary people.

That's 40% up from the previous year. Most people complain about inaccuracy.

According to Meyer, the newspapers live in fear of having to print adjudications against themselves, especially when they have to be placed prominently and 'not amongst the ads for corsets and hernia trusses'.

With his blend of refinement and irreverence, Meyer was a hit. And who rules Britain? 'Definitely Downing Street - the press is far less powerful than it would lead you to believe.'

Key moment: The revelation that the seven editors on the PCC are at each other's throats when adjudicating.

Key lesson: Candour and insider stories in your talk will hook your audience.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth? ... Silver tongue.

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