Memorandum submitted by the Press Complaints
1. The PCC's role as conciliator, and its
benefits to the public
2. Who complains and what about?
3. Putting things right: making the complaints
process easy and transparent
4. Complaints handling: speed and effectiveness
in resolving complaints
5. Complainants' Charter and customer satisfaction
1. The importance of the Code
2. Strengthening the Code: its development
3. How the Code has raised standards
4. The Code and editors' contracts of employment
5. The partnership approach: working with
Government and others to improve the Code
1. Who complains about intrusionand
what do they complain about?
2. How the PCC has developed its privacy
3. Privacy and public figures
4. The public interest
5. Privacy and the Human Rights Act 1998
1. Our proactive public information strategy
2. Raising the profile: targeting particularly
vulnerable groups of peopleand enabling them to complain
3. Taking the PCC out to the countries and
regions of the UK
4. Training tomorrow's journalists
5. Making information available easily and
1. An independent Commission and appointments
2. Code Committee and Pressbof
4. "Own volition" and third party
5. Media monitoring
6. Accountability and scrutiny
1. The PCC and self-regulation in a European
2. How the Commission helps other countries
to develop self-regulation
3. The Alliance of Independent Press Councils
4. Our work in the Commonwealth Concluding
1. Press freedom and Press responsibility:
The power of self-regulation in practice
2. Analysis of 1993 Select Committee Report
and improvements to the PCC since then
4. Why a privacy law would be of no use
to ordinary people
5. PCC Annual Review 2003 (Not Reproduced)
The Press Complaints Commission welcomes this
inquiry and the scrutiny by the Select Committee of its procedures
and policies. In particular, we are keen to show how we serve
the publicand how the Code protects the rights of ordinary
The ability of newspapers and magazines to regulate
themselves is a fundamental aspect of press freedom. This is widely
recognised across the globeand at home, where the principles
of press self-regulation have enjoyed consistent cross party support.
But freedoms such as this bring responsibilities
with them, and this Report is designed to show how the PCCan
independent body, dominated by lay or public members, which administers
the press Code and deals with complaints from members of the public
about possible breaches of ithas discharged its own duties
as part of the system of self-regulation. (Intro)
The PCC's central aim is to resolve disputesa
mission, in fact, given to it in the first Calcutt Report. Since
the mid-1990s, the Commission has succeeded in fostering a culture
of conciliation among newspapers, to the benefit of ordinary complainants.
In 2002, editors resolved or offered to resolve 96% of all complaints
that raised a possible breach of the Code. (A1)
Complaint levels have increased since the PCC
was established to an average over the last four years of just
under 2,600 each yeara 40% increase on the first four years
of the Commission's existence. This is a sign of wider public
knowledge about, and trust in, our work. (A2)
Over the last 12 years there has been a marked
decline in the proportion of complaints about inaccuracy, from
a peak of 75% to 56% in 2002one of the signs that standards
of accuracy continue to improve. There has been a concomitant
rise in complaints about privacy and discrimination. (A2)
The vast majority of complainants, over 90%,
are ordinary people. They come from every country of the UK, and
every region. (A2)
The complaints processthanks to a Helpline,
website and initiatives to make the Code accessible in languages
other than Englishis easy and transparent. (A3)
Speed is vital to the work of the PCC. In 2001
and 2002, the average time it took to deal with a complaint was
just 32 working daysalthough complaints through lawyers
took up to 40% longer. (A4)
The PCC works under the terms of a tough Complainants'
Charter which has helped reduce the complaints handling time by
27% (or 12 working days) since 1997. A customer satisfaction survey
among complainants in 2002 found very high levels of satisfaction.
Key to the work of the PCC is the Code, the
authority of which has been enhanced by its incorporation into
editors' contracts of employment, by important legislation, by
the rulings of the Court of Appeal in crucial cases under the
Human Rights Act (HRA) and by its inclusion in the training courses
all new journalists undergo. (B1).
The Code itself has been considerably strengthened
over the last 12 years (B2)and is now, as noted above,
part of the contracts of employment of most national and regional
While it is impossible empirically to measure
the success of the Code, the way in which it has raised standards
in key areas on the back of PCC adjudicationsparticularly
on privacy, children, subterfuge, victims and othersis
clearly demonstrable. (B3)
The Code is a flexible document, and the industry
has worked in partnership with Government and others to tackle
issues of importance to press and publicsuch as Human Rights,
Data Protection and others. (B5)
There are many myths about privacy. In fact
the vast majority of people who complain about intrusion are ordinary
people; only five per cent are in the national public eye. More
privacy complaints are received by the PCC about regional newspapers
than national ones. (C1)
Over the years the PCC has built up vitally
important privacy jurisprudence across the range of privacy issues.
All these demonstrate that there are no absolutes; every case
is part of a balancing act. The Courts have recognised that such
an operation is best undertaken by a specialist body such as the
PCC, and have themselves drawn on PCC case law in ruling on privacy
The PCC recognises that public figures are as
entitled to privacy as any otherand are given equal protection
under the Code, as well as the same service by the PCC when they
complain. The families of public figures have also received the
full protection of the Code. (C3)
The PCC has also developed the concept of public
interest in a cogent, authoritative manner. It does not believe
that public interest equates to what interests the public. In
adjudicating it will apply rigorous tests to any public interest
defence put forward by an editor. (C4)
Far from proving to be a back-door privacy law
for famous people, important decisions under the HRA have actually
strengthened the position of self-regulation, and the authority
of the Code. (C5)
The PCC is aware that one of its main tasks
is to ensure people are aware of their rights and know how to
complain. It has therefore put in place a comprehensive programme
of public information. (D1)
While there is always more to do, independent
research shows that PCC name recognitionat 80% in a very
recent pollis already high. Furthermore, members of the
public support a system with speedy dispute resolution, free to
complainants and funded by the newspaper industry, at its heart.
In particular, we have undertaken a substantial
amount of work which aims to empower the most vulnerableasylum
seekers, the mentally ill, ethnic minorities, among othersto
be able to complain. (D2)
The Commission is keen to ensure an active presence
throughout the countries of the United Kingdom and the regions
of England. A programme of exhibitions and road shows has been
to every part of the country. Special initiatives have been taken
in Scotland. (D3)
Training tomorrow's journalists is vital to
the long-term future of self-regulationand the PCC plays
an important role in training courses. Knowledge of the Code is
now an essential component of the exams trainee journalists take.
The PCC is also committed to making information
available easily and quickly to those who want it through its
website and through speaking engagements. This is backed up by
a generous donation of advertising space by publishers themselves
to highlight the existence of the Commission. (D5)
A number of the procedural problems highlighted
by the 1993 Select Committee report have been rectified. In particular
the PCC has a clear majority of lay or public members, themselves
appointed by an independent Appointments Commission. (E1)
Lay members are drawn from a wide variety of
backgroundsand regional editors ensure that the voices
of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions are
heard on the PCC. (E1)
The power to issue a critical adjudication is
a very strong sanctionone strengthened by the ability of
the Commission to refer the terms of serious or calculated breaches
of the Code to an editor's employer. This has been deployed twice,
with powerful effect. (E3)
Fines and compensation would destroy the conciliatory
nature of the self-regulatory systemand, by turning it
into a quasi-legal system, make it inaccessible to the vast majority
of individuals. (E3)
While the Commission will take up third party
complaints in exceptional circumstances, it will not normally
consider thema principle it shares in common with the statutory
regulators in the UK and most other Press Councils in Europe.
Third party and "own volition" complaintswhich
share the same characteristicswould create a two-tier system
of redress, disadvantaging ordinary people and unacceptably politicising
the PCC. (E4)
Comprehensive media monitoring isfor
many of the same reasonsphilosophically undesirable and
practically impossible. However, the PCC does from time to time
monitor standards in key areas to inform its public information
work and to highlight certain issues among editors. This has shown
very high levels of Code compliance. (E5)
By providing a great deal of information about
its complaints procedures and the outcome of complaints, the PCC
seeks to ensure it is accountable to the public and to the industry.
The scrutiny of the Courts (through judicial review) and the Select
Committee add another important layer of accountability. (E6)
The PCC fits well into a European tradition
of press self-regulation dating back over 70 years. Among EU States
there are statutory press controls in only two countries. In most
emerging democracies self-regulation is the chosen path for industry
and Government. The Commission is committed to a programmeoften
funded by the British Governmentto assist in that process.
(F1, F2, F4)
The PCC is in the vanguard in Europe in promoting
greater co-operation among European Press Councils. The Alliance
of Independent Press Councils of Europe, and its new website,
help the PCC ensure it is providing the best service for ordinary
The PCC recognises that it is not perfect and
that is can always seek to improve its service. We believe our
service to ordinary people is a very good oneand also that
standards of reporting with regard to the rights of ordinary individuals
have been substantially raised in recent years. (Conclusion)
We welcome constructive and practical proposals
for reform. Most of the Select Committee's recommendations from
1993 have now been implemented. (Annex 2)
The alternatives to the PCC are impractical
and undesirable. Statutory controls would be impossible to implement
under the HRA, and privacy laws would be inaccessible to ordinary
people. Strong, independent self-regulation works for everyoneand
we are committed to ensuring it continues to do so. (Conclusion/Annex
1. Two fundamental truths about the media
are beyond political controversy. The first is that a free press
is the essential foundation of a democratic society; the second
that, concomitantly, state controls on the press are the first
act, and indeed underpinning, of any authoritarian regime.
2. It is no coincidence that when Churchill
and Roosevelt met for the first time in the Second World War at
Reykjavik to agree the terms of the Atlantic Charter, its first,
crucial principle was freedom of expression and speech.
Such freedomsof which freedom of the press is the essential
componenthave been the cornerstone of all the most important
international treaties designed to buttress and extend democracy
3. But freedom of the press is about more
than the freedom to express views and publish news free from the
censor's pen. It is also about the ability of newspapers and magazines
to choose a form of regulation for themselves: without such a
choice, the press itself cannot truly be free. This was a point
recognised by the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, during the
passage of the Human Rights Act 1998, when he made clear that
self-regulation is an aspect of freedom of expression:
"The Government have always made clear our
support for effective self-regulation as administered by the Press
Complaints Commission under its Code of Practice. We have also
said we have no plans to introduce legislation creating a general
law of privacy . . . On self-regulation, the new Clause provides
an important safeguard by emphasising the right to freedom of
expression. Our intention is that that should underline the consequent
need to preserve self-regulation" (Hansard, 2 July
1998, col 541).
4. Yet with these freedoms comes great responsibility.
Newspapers and magazines wield great powerand in most mature
civil societies, they choose to make clear that they wish to wield
it responsibly, and within a framework of high ethical standards.
5. That is exactly what the British newspaper
and magazine industry did in 1991 when it established the Press
Complaints Commission. For the first time in its three hundred
year history, it agreed to submit to a set of tough self-regulatory
rulesbinding all publications equally through an industry-wide
Codeand the authority of an independent body to oversee
them. The degree of that sea-change cannot be overstated.
6. Governments of both political parties
since then have supported the right of the industry to regulate
itself in this mannerand the work of the Press Complaints
Commission. (Indeed no government of any political persuasion
has sought to impose special controls on the press since the abolition
of the Licensing Act in 1689).
7. That is why during the passage of the
Human Rights Act, which the Select Committee is examining, the
Government moved to safeguard the position of self-regulation.
8. More recently, the Secretaries of State
for Culture, Media and Sport, and for Trade and Industry reconfirmed
the Government's commitment to self-regulation in a letter to
"The Government remains committed to the
self-regulation of the press through the Press Complaints Commission
and the (Communications) Bill does not affect this in any way"
(The Times, 11 December 2002).
9. This cross-party support for newspaper
self-regulation echoed the Conservative Government's 1995 White
Paper on Privacy and Media Intrusion, which concluded that:
"A free press is vital to a free country.
Many would think the imposition of statutory controls on newspapers
invidious because it might open the way for regulating content,
thereby laying Government open to charges of press censorship
. . . The Government does not find the case for statutory measures
in this area compelling. It believes that, in principle, industry
self-regulation is much to be preferred" (Privacy and Media
Intrusion, Cmd. 2918, July 1995., pp 4-5).
10. More recently, the Shadow Secretary
of State for Culture, Media and Sport, John Whittingdale MP, spoke
during a debate on the Communications Bill about the importance
"belief in press freedom, which we would
all echo. In the UK statutory regulation of the publishing industry
has always been viewed as unnecessary and dangerous, with any
benefits being far outweighed by the loss of freedom that it might
entail. The Government have on many occasions made clear their
support for the current system of press self-regulation as administered
by the Press Complaints Commission... That reflects the belief,
as guaranteed by the Human Rights Act 1998, that freedom of expression
and opinion are rights that must be strictly protected in a free
and democratic society" (Hansard, 3 December 2002,
11. Furthermore, a number of crucial rulings
under the Human Rights Actdiscussed later in this submissionalong
with the result of actions for judicial review of the PCC, have
strengthened its authority and that of the Code. The Courts, as
Mr Justice Silber said in the case of Anna Ford, recognise "the
Commission is a body whose membership and expertise makes it much
better equipped than the courts to resolve the difficult exercise
of balancing the conflicting rights . . . (of) privacy and of
the newspapers to publish." 
12. Despite this clear support across parties
for the work of the Commission, it is of course absolutely right
that it is, from time to time, independently scrutinised. This
occurs occasionally in the Courts; and each time the PCC had been
taken to judicial review its procedures and policies have been
given a clean bill of health by the Administrative Court, and
in one case the Court of Appeal. The PCC welcomes this wide-ranging
inquiry by the Select Committee, particularly with its emphasis
on the rights of ordinary people.
13. Last time the predecessor to this Select
Committee scrutinised the work of the PCC in 1993, self-regulation
and the Code were barely two years oldand were still suffering
from disagreeable birth pains.
14. There was understandable concern about
the independence of the PCC. Its service to the public was arguably
too slow and lacked transparency. The Code was still a novelty
to most editors who were only gradually getting used to its stricturesand,
indeed, the Code itself was too weak in some areas. And the Commission
was finding it difficult to cope with some of the more high profile
cases of media intrusion presented by the break-up of two Royal
marriages. But even then, the essence of the Commission's worka
dispute resolution procedure tailored to the needs of ordinary
peoplewas starting to shine through, and we have continued
to build on this.
15. A lot has changed since the 1993 inquiryboth
radically to improve the Commission's service, and to continue
to the process of raising standards of reporting. Among the most
important developments are these:
The PCC's appointments procedures
have been reformed to ensure the clear independence of the Commission
from the industry it is regulating.
The Code has been toughened in many
key aspectsand is now, at 12 years old, genuinely part
of the culture of all newsrooms in the way it could never have
been in its early years. It is alsoas a result of the way
the PCC and the industry have worked in partnership with Governmenta
key part of many pieces of legislation. The PCC's rulings on privacy,
in particular, have been given extra weight and authority by crucial
judgements under the Human Rights Act, which draws from the Commission's
case law in this area.
The PCC's sanctions have been sharpened.
It has powers to refer cases of serious breaches of the Code to
publisherswho now almost without exception include Code
compliance in editors' contracts of employmentand to raise
its own complaints when there are clear public interest reasons
for doing so.
The Commission has transformed its
standards of service on the back of a tough Complainants' Chartermaking
its procedures the quickest and most effective of any regulatory
body. The clear winners from this are ordinary people who make
The PCC has fashioned important and
far reaching jurisprudence on privacyfor people in the
public eye and ordinary people alikewhich has been acknowledged
by the Courts, and echoed in key Human Rights judgements.
The protection of the vulnerable
has been placed at the heart of our workboth in terms of
decisions under the Code, and in terms of key initiatives designed
to ensure our service is as widely known as possible.
Important work has been undertaken
to ensure that the Commission is as open and accessible as possible
to people across the country.
16. In its core rolesdispute resolution
and the protection of the vulnerablethe Commission is now
regarded as a model for countries seeking to set up similar bodies.
Indeed, the British Government itself has recently sponsored two
projectsin the Commonwealth and among some former Soviet
Republicsto help establish self-regulation in countries
where none existed before. A similar initiative a few years ago
in Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the auspices of the International
Community, led to the setting up of a self regulatory Press Council
under the international chairmanship of the Chairman of the PCC.
17. This submissionalongside an accompanying
volume of supporting evidencedoes not seek to make the
philosophical case for self-regulation or to promote the freedom
of the press. Nor does it tell the whole story of self-regulationwhich
is about day to day behaviour in thousands of publications up
and down the country, and of which the PCC is only a tiny, if
very visible, part.
18. The threefold raisons d'être of
the PCC are to administer a Code, to deal effectively with the
complaints (the vast majority of which are from ordinary people),
and to ensure that its services are well known. This submission
therefore seeks to:
(a) set out our service to the publicincluding
an examination of who makes complaints, how they are resolved,
and how satisfied those individuals are;
(b) examine how the Code has worked in actionincluding
an analysis of the way it has developed, evidence of how it has
raised newspaper standards, and examples of how we have worked
in partnership with Government;
(c) outline how the Commission deals with
issues of personal privacyincluding the development of
the PCC's jurisprudence, an analysis of who is affected by media
intrusion, the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998, privacy and
public figures and public interest;
(d) set out the way in which the PCC seeks
to publicise its servicesconcentrating in particular on
the way we seek to protect the vulnerable and ensure we are known
and represented across the United Kingdom;
(e) examine the PCC's proceduresin
particular its appointments procedures, the independence of the
PCC, the work of the Code Committee, the transparency of its own
complaints procedures, and a number of other issues including
own volition/third party complaints, and media monitoring; and
(f) establish the PCC in a European and international
contextoutlining our work to help promote self-regulation
in countries not as blessed as ours with a history of press freedom,
and establishing that the international trend in media policy
is toward self-regulation and away from state controls.
19. There is an annex in this volume which
contains other relevant documentation, including an analysis of
how some of the concerns of the 1993 Select Committee report have
been met. An Appendix to this submissionin a further volumecontains
SECTION ASERVICE TO THE PUBLIC
A (1) THE PCC'S
The philosophy of dispute resolution
1. It was never the intention of those who
established the PCC that it should simply be a toned down, free
version of the legal system with complaints investigations pitting
opposing sides against one another in large, set-piece confrontations.
Even if such a system could be kept free it would still be lengthy,
adversarial and cumbersome, prone to exploitation by lawyers to
the detriment of the ordinary complainant.
2. For these reasons, the PCC's main aim
in dealing with complaints is to offer members of the public a
more useful and user-friendly mechanism for obtaining redress
for their grievanceswith speed at its heart: the Commission
has always recognised that justice delayed is justice deniedand
accordingly always seeks to resolve breaches of the Code to the
satisfaction of the complainant, without the need for lengthy
formal adjudication. This mission was actually given to the Commission
by Calcutt in his First Report: "We recommend that the PCC
should have clear conciliation and adjudication procedures designed
to ensure that complaints are handled with the minimum of delay.
Wherever practical it should first seek conciliation".
It has fulfilled that mission in abundance.
3. The PCC is, therefore, at heart an alternative
dispute resolution mechanism, although any newspapers that refuse
to remedy a breach of the Code are at risk of a critical adjudication.
It is deliberately not like the state-appointed "watchdogs"
that have supervisory powers over whole industries and are designed
to protect public health and safety and the consumer in general.
Rather, the PCC is a conciliation service for those people who
have personally experienced a breach of the press Code of Practice.
It is also particularly designed to be of assistance to specific
groups of often vulnerable people who previously had no effective
redress against newspapers towards whom they had a grievance.
Fostering a new culture
4. Before 1991 there was not a great culture
of conciliation in the British newspaper industry. Complaining
about a newspaper was intimidating and likely to be counter-productive.
Some newspaper editors simply ignored the old Press Council and,
in its last years, ridiculed complainants. Indeed, it is widely
accepted that many editors did not at first recognise the creation
of the PCC as representing a great sea-change in their relationships
with their readers and in particular with those who complained
about them. The PCC in its early years struggled to imbue its
adjudications with great authority and as a result found it difficult
to promote a culture of conciliation, because editors were simply
not fearful of the consequences if they refused to resolve a complaint.
5. Other Sections in this submission detail
how the authority of the PCC has grown over the years. As it did
so, and as publishers, politicians and the public began to take
more notice of its findings, the process of encouraging editors
to resolve complaints has become easier. Gradually, a new culture
has been instilled.
6. Part of the reason for this has been
the increasing authority of the Commission's adjudications. In
the early years, these often lacked consistency and failed to
give full reasoning for a decision. Since the mid 1990s, adjudications
have always been clearly based on precedents, reference to which
is now included in all rulings and published with them on the
website. Full reasoning is also given for every Commission decisionon
adjudicated complaint as well as on those where no breach of the
Code is established.
7. Furthermore, editors have learned that
the PCC takes into account whether they are prepared to resolve
any complaint if the Commission is called to make a formal decision.
An early admission that something has gone wrong, and proposals
to put it right, will be recognised in any adjudication. In common
with other conciliation bodies, the Commission accepts that there
can be cases where a complainant rejects an offer that is actually
an adequate remedy to the complaint. In these circumstances the
Commission will decline to pursue the matter any further, explaining
to the complainant why the offer was suitable. The offer will
often remain open to the complainant as a sign of a newspaper's
8. The logical outcome of this policy is
that editors offer to resolve far more complaints than previously,
and at a much earlier stageas the graph below sets out.
9. The real beneficiaries are, of course,
complainants. Nowadays they do not have to wait very long for
an offer of remedial action. Furthermore, knowing that editors
are making genuine and constructive efforts to resolve complaints
both cools their understandable anger about the original breach
of the Code and also gives peace of mind about the outcome. Real
dialogue between the parties, channelled through the PCC, promotes
harmony and swift settlements to complaints, where a more adversarialor
adjudication-onlysystem would provoke hostility and inevitable
10. In 2002, the PCC had to adjudicate on
just 17 breaches of the Code. In ALL of the other cases where
there had been a breach of the Code381 complaintsan
editor made a suitable and proportional offer to resolve the matter.
In other words, such is the willingness now to resolve complaints
that editors offer to resolve 96 per cent of cases that raise
a breach of the Code. Details of these cases for 2002, which show
the range of cases that the PCC deals with, are in Appendix I.
Resolving complaints in practice
11. Against this background, PCC complaints
officers are trained to examine ways complaints might be resolved,
taking into account the feelings of the complainant. As an independent
party, the officer casts an objective eye over the matter and
works towards what might be a fair and reasonable outcome to the
complaintbearing in mind the Commission's case law which
might instruct on how certain sorts of complaint can be resolved.
12. It is important to emphasise that all
complainants are told as soon as they complain that the first
task of the Commission is to resolve complaints and that this
is what the officer dealing with their complaint will be working
towards. However, complainants can of course at any stage ask
the Commission itself to take a formal view on their complaint,
although in practice most are happy with the conciliation process
because it promises the opportunity of a quick and meaningful
resolution to their complaint.
13. In practice, it is possible to resolve
complaints in a number of ways, depending on the gravity of the
complaint, whether the complainant wants further publicity, what
the editorial policy is on correcting mistakes, or what the personal
feelings of the editor are. While editors are ultimately responsible
for breaches of the Code, each newspaper usually has a dedicated
senior member of stafffor instance the managing editordealing
with the detail of complaints, ensuring that they are handled
quickly and with authority. Outlined below are a number of common
ways of resolving a complaint, although the list is by no means
exhaustive and resolutions might involve a combination of the
measures below or different and specific remedies designed for
the special circumstances of the case.
Clarification. A clarification might
be appropriate when something has been omitted from the original
article or the piece is ambiguous or arguably misleading. It stops
short of an admission by the newspaper that there was anything
wrong with its article and will often begin "(the complainant)
has asked us to make clear that . . .", or "We would
like to make clear that . . .".
Correction and apologies. Straightforward
factual errors are usually dealt with most cleanly and simply
by the publication of a correction. Corrections to serious errors
should also include an apologyas required by the Code,
which states "an apology must be published where appropriate".
Letter for publication. An offer by an
editor to publish a complainant's letter is particularly appropriate
when: the complainant has an alternative point of view but no
substantive factual objections to the piece; where there are a
number of minor inaccuracies; where the newspaper has an anonymous
and reliable source but no other corroborative material; or where
a complainant might for reasons of privacy wish to make anonymous
objections to a piece.
Follow-up article. A newspaper might
offer to publish an interview with, or article written by, a complainant,
if there are sufficient points to make in response to a previous
"Tagging" the newspaper's records.
This is an increasingly popular way of resolving complaints and
is offered in conjunction with all of the above remedies or on
its own. It amounts to the newspaper's electronic database and
cuttings library being tagged with the complainant's objection
to ensure that the mistake is not repeated. It is also a way of
carrying warnings about privacy, perhaps informing journalists
that a complainant has objected to a particular picture or is
concerned to protect their children from intrusion. Most national
newspapers now share their electronic databases so corrections
are available to all newspapersincluding PA Newssimultaneously.
Private letter of apology. In many cases
further publicity is not an attractive idea for the complainant.
Particularly in privacy cases or intrusion into grief, people
are most concerned to receive an acknowledgement that the Code
has been breached or to read some words of regret from the editor
without having to worry about the trauma of reading their name
in the paper again. A private apology, often drafted with the
help of a complaints officer, and perhaps tagged to the file as
outlined above, provides this remedy for complainants.
Private undertaking. Similarly, undertakings
given by the editor about the future conduct of the newspaper
and its journalists might also give the complainant some peace
of mind and complaints have been resolved on this basis.
14. Often, an editor will offer a combination
of the measures outlined above. Sometimes, they go further than
the Code requires and offer holidays, goods such as flowers and
champagne, gifts of specialist equipment such as wheelchairs,
and, on some occasions, money. Such offers are left entirely to
the editor and are not solicited by complaints officers, as it
is not within the Commission's remit to deliver such resolutions.
Nevertheless, they do occur from time to time when editors want
to make a special effort to make amends.
15. A key advantage of the PCC over any
statutory mechanism or one involving fines is that these sorts
of quick, common-sense and meaningful resolutions are increasingly
achievable, thanks to the culture of conciliation that the PCC
has promoted. In a fast-moving news environment people want their
point of view published, an inaccuracy corrected or a breach of
privacy remedied as quickly as possiblea point Calcutt
recognised in his blue-print for the PCC. This is the prime reason
that people complain. Only a flexible and conciliatory system
like the PCC'sbacked up with the powerful threat of a critical
adjudication if things are not sorted outcan deliver it.
As subsequent Sections set out, fines, compensation or statutory
powers would introduce delay, legal fees and confrontation, and
severely limit a complainant's options for swift redress.
A (2) WHO COMPLAINSAND
Total numbers of complaints received
1. The number of complaints received by
the PCC has been rising steadily in the years since the Commission
was established in 1991. In the Commission's view this is the
a consistently higher profile for
the PCC and its adjudications;
our proactive programmeset
out in Section Cto raise the profile of the PCC and make
sure people have the information to complain when necessary;
easier complaints proceduresparticularly
the ability to complain by email; and
greater authority for the Commission
itself in public perception.
2. In the first year of its existence, the
PCC received 1,520 complaints; that figure rose steadily and the
number of complaints averaged out at 1,836 during the first four
years. Since then the number of complaints has gone up considerably
to an average over the last four years of 2,579an increase
of 40%. The table below illustrates this.
The Commission interprets this general rise
not as a sign that standards are falling, butas set out
aboveas a result of wider knowledge about, and accessibility
to, the Commission's services.
Types of complaint
3. There have been a number of trends over
the last twelve years in the issues under the Code of Practice
that individuals have complained about. As the following paragraphs
show, this has been principally:
a marked reduction over time in the
number of complaints about accuracy in reporting;
a steady increase in the number of
complaints about privacy; and
a similarly steady rise in complaints
4. In 1991, 72% of complaints were brought
under the three Clauses of the Code relating to accuracy.
By 2002, this had fallen by over one fifth to 56%, as the following
5. There has at the same time been a steady
rise in the number of complaints brought under the various privacy
Clauses of the Code (privacy, children, hospitals, innocent relatives,
victims of crime, grief and shock)from 14% in 1991 to 23%
in 2002 (after peaking at 27% in 1999). This table illustrates
6. Part of the increase in privacy complaints
has come about because of a higher profile for the PCC on privacy
issuesnot least in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess
of Walesbut also a substantial toughening of the Code in
January 1998. However, the increase in complaints has not been
mirrored in a rise in breaches of the Code and upheld complaintsas
we discuss in Section B3.
7. The PCC has, over the years, received
a significant number of discrimination complaints. This has, again,
risen steadilyas the next Table showsparticularly
since 1996. This is the result of:
reporting in 1996 of the Euro 96
the aftermath of the events of 11
September 2001, and particular concerns about the reporting of
issues relating to Islam and the Muslim community; and
continued political and public debate
about, and media reporting of, issues concerning refugees and
asylum seekers. (Some of these complaints are also multiple ones
about the same article that the Commission has received from individuals
within lobby groups.)
However, it is important to note that this had
not led to an increase in the number of breaches of the Code relating
to discrimination against named individuals (see Annex 3).
The publications complained about
8. The type of publication against which
individuals have made complaints has remained fairly consistent
over the years. As the Table belowwhich sets out the average
numbers for the last five yearsshows, about half of all
complaints are about national newspapers and about a third concern
the regional press in England and Wales.
Who are the complainants?
9. The PCC has undertaken a careful analysis
of the complaints it received in 2002 to assess who complainants
are, and where they come from. Part of this is to identify if
there are areas of the country the Commission needs to target
in its ongoing programme of regional public information (see Section
10. That analysis showed that in 2002 (which
was on every indicator typical of previous years) more than nine
in 10 of the people who complained to us were ordinary individuals
who had been temporarily caught up in some problem with the media.
Just under 3% of complainantshalf of them MPswere
national public figures, as the Table below shows.
11. Complainants are relatively well spread
around the country as well: complaining is not just a metropolitan
London activity. The Table overleaf demonstrates this.
12. The only area that gives the Commission
some concern is the relatively low number of complaints emanating
from Wales. The PCC will therefore prioritise Wales as an area
for proactive public information work in 2003-04including
giving extra publicity to its Welsh language literature.
13. In view of the Select Committee's terms
of reference, a further analysis specifically relating to privacy
complaints is included in Section C1.
A (3) PUTTING
: MAKING THE
1. The initialand in many ways most
importantpart of the complaints process is the framing
of the complaint by the concerned party. The PCC strives to ensure
that ordinary people, without any previous experience in dealing
with the media or the need for expensive legal advice, are able
easily to register their concerns about newspaper behaviour and
gain quick redress for matters that may have had a major effect
2. The first step is to make sure that information
about how the PCC works is generally accessible. Along with its
widely-distributed literature, the Commission offers two other
services to ensure that all people are aware of, and able to use,
the complaints process.
Helpline. During office hours a member
of staff will be on hand to give prompt (90% of all calls are
answered within four rings) and general advice. There is a separate
line for people from Scotland, who are able to contact the PCC
at the cost of a local call. The PCC's phone number is listed
in all telephone directories.
Website. Our websitewww.pcc.org.ukis
updated regularly and constitutes a full, and practical, resource
of information about the complaints process, including specific
advice on how to deal with press harassment. Recently, it has
been expanded to offer a service for studentsand any interested
partythat answers frequently-asked questions about the
PCC and the philosophy of self-regulation.
In addition, complaints can now be made on-line.
3. The PCC has a range of literature to
help people make a complaint. In 2002, 3,354 copies of our "How
to Complain" leaflet (a copy of which is at Appendix
II) (not reproduced) were distributed, together with 3,872
copies of the Code of Practice. As this documentation covers all
aspects of the complaints process, every person who notified the
PCC of an intention to raise a complaint was provided immediately
with the means to do so.
4. The Commission recognises that there
may be a number of people for whom our literature may not be immediately
accessible. It therefore has take steps to ensure that:
the Code of Practice and "How
to Complain" booklets have been translated into Bengali,
Urdu, Welsh and Gaelic, with further literature in Chinese, Arabic
there are large print and audio copies
of literature available on request; and
we provide a Textphone for deaf and
hard of hearing persons.
5. The Commission also provides a range
of literature targeted at specific groups of peoplesuch
as patients or school childrenoutlining to them which sections
of the Code would be relevant to their circumstances. Appendix
III (not reproduced) contains an example of such information.
6. Having received the relevant literature,
a complainant is able to specify in what way the publication has
acted in breach of the industry's Code of Practice and give a
full indication of the circumstances that have necessitated the
complaint. If the complainant has any difficultiesof literacy
or language, for examplethen the PCC is able to help them
to formulate the complaint. A complaints officer will always be
able to make suggestions or take dictation so that such difficulties
do not prohibit the complaint.
7. The PCC merely requires the complainant
to send a letter, fax or email containing this information, together
with a copy of the article, for a complaint formally to be registered.
It will then be assessed as to whether it raises issues that require
8. It may well be, at this stage, that the
PCC is unable to help the complainant further as the issue that
has been raised does not fall within the bounds of the Code or
the PCC's jurisdiction This might be for a number of reasonsprincipally
because it turns out that the complaint concerns:
advertisements or promotions in newspapers;
a contractual dispute with the newspaper
or contains material in regard to which there is ongoing or impending
legal action. (The Commission is, however, able to place complaints
on hold until the relevant proceedings have been concluded and
start an investigation at that point);
a matter of taste, such as the inclusion
of provocative photographs, or editorial selection of material.
The PCC is not an arbiter about good taste nor would it seek to
impose restrictions on what an editor may include in his or her
newspaper, provided that its content does not breach any of the
Clauses of the Code of Practice; or
an article published over one month
before the complaint or more than one month since the cessation
of any correspondence between complainant and newspaper. (This
time-limit does not act as a bar to the investigation of complaints
that have been unavoidably delayed. The Commission is prepared
to consider each case on its merits and will assess any exceptional
circumstances that the complainant wishes to put forward to explain
the delay. All complaints, in which the reason for the delay has
been legitimate, are taken up by the Commission.)
9. In the above circumstances, the PCC will
respond to the complainant's letter within three working days
of its receipt, making clear the reasons why it will not be investigating
the matter. Where appropriate, it is able to refer to complaints
to other organisationssuch as the Advertising Standards
Authority, Broadcasting Standards Commission or relevant Trading
Standards bodyunder whose remit the matter more appropriately
falls. At this stage, as in all stages of the process, the complainant
is able to query the decision or ask for a reconsideration by
10. If the complaint falls within the ambit
of the Code but does not appear to raise a prima facie
breach, then it will be presented to the Commission for a formal
decision. The Commission will then take a view based on the evidence
submitted. If it decides that no breach of the Code has been established,
the complainant will be informed promptly about the terms of the
judgement and the reasoning behind it.
11. Any significant complaint, which requires
further investigation, is assigned to a specified Complaints Officer,
who will be in charge of the case until it is either resolved
to the satisfaction of the complainant or presented to the Commission
for a decision under the Code. The officer is able to offer ongoing
advice during the processing of the complaint and is accessible
by telephone, letter and email. This guarantees that the complainant
can remain up-to-date with the complaint's progress and has a
specific person with whom to liaise at all times.
12. A weekly meeting is always held under
the Chairmanship of a lay Commissioner to assess the progress
of complaints. This ensures a clear lay input throughout the process
of a complaint.
13. In its handling of complaints, the PCC
guarantees total transparency at all timesand in line with
procedures laid down by the Administrative Court.
At the conclusion of an investigation, the Commission will only
consider material upon which the complainant has had a full opportunity
to comment. The complainantagain in line with the procedure
of the Administrative Courtwill always be given the "last
word" before a decision is reached to ensure that his or
her overview on the entire complaint is retained. In practice,
this means that the Commission's assessment pays full regard to
what the complainant has had to say in regard to the investigation.
It is also important to note that where a newspaper or magazine
whose editor sits on the Commission is being investigated, he
or she takes no part in any decision. If there is an adjudication,
the editor concerned sees no papers and leaves the Commission
meeting for the duration of the discussion.
14. This transparency is retained even after
the Commission has come to a decision. Obviously, while the Commission
strives to be balanced and fair, its verdicts cannot always meet
with the approval of all complainants. The Complaints Officers
remain available to discuss the Commission's decision with the
complainant and help to explain its reasoning. Often, complainants
are satisfied with the outcome after further discussion about
15. However, complainants are also able
to question the factual basis underlying the decision. The Commission
has always made clear that it is happy to reconsider a complaint
in its entirety should any significant misunderstanding be suggested
or any new evidence come to light. The Commission's decision,
therefore, is notnor seeks to benecessarily the
final word on the subject. As with the entire complaints process,
the complainant is aware of, and able to comment on, how the matter
has been handled.
16. The Commission has also created the
position of Charter Officer to monitor the complaints service
in the context of its "Complainants' Charter", which
makes explicit the standards by which complaints should be investigated
(see Section A5). This offers yet another layer of accountability
within the system and guarantees that all opinions about PCC performance
will be heard and noted.
17. Outside its primary role of investigating
specific complaints, the Commission also provides informal advice
and assistance for all those that require it. In 2002, over seven
thousand enquiries from members of the publicby telephone,
fax and emailwere answered. The Commission is more accessible
than ever and offers a variety of services that place it within
the direct contact of ordinary people.
Dealing with emergencies
18. One important example of our accessibility
is the way in which the Commission is able to respond directly
to emergencies, as sometimesoften in the most serious casesthere
are occasions in which people may require urgent advice outside
office hours. To accommodate this, the Commission provides on
its answerphone a pager number, which will be answered at any
time of the day or night. This service is particularly designed
to help people who may feel harassed by the press and require
immediate help to alleviate the problem. By telephoning the PCC,
they can be put through to a message service that will place them
immediately in contact with a designated Complaints Officer. In
this way, the public can be reassured that help will always be
at hand from the PCC.
A (4) COMPLAINTS
1. As set out in Section A1, the benefits
to the complainant of quick investigations, providing flexible
and proportionate resolutions to their complaints, are considerable.
To that end, the Commission undertakes constant internal monitoring
of all complaints to ensure that the service that is provided
to the complainant is up to the high standards set out in the
Complainants' Charter (see Section A5). Chief among the Commission's
responsibilities is a commitment to deal with complaints as quickly
as possible, because it recognises that the swifter the resolution
the more effective it is. In addition, since the beginning of
2002 all complainants who receive a decision by the Commission
are surveyed after the conclusion of their complaint for their
views about how they felt the complaint was handled (see Section
Swift handling of all complaints
2. Some years ago the PCC reformed its internal
procedures to make its handling of complaints more effective.
It pledged to reduce the average number of working days taken
to deal with complaints to 40. In the past two years, this figure
has been cut to just 32 working days, making the PCC by far the
quickest media complaints body.
Not only is the PCC the swiftest
but it is also the smallest and most efficient, with just 12 full
time members of staff.
3. The PCC has underlined its commitment
to swift redress by upholding complaints on the basis that offers
to resolve them have not been made quickly enough.
4. With so much emphasis on resolving complaints
to the satisfaction of the complainant, handling times for resolving
complaints inevitably take a little longer: often, a resolution
can come only after an investigation has established a breach
of the Code. After that, negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement
can obviously take some time depending on the nature and complexity
of the case. Nevertheless, the average time taken to deal with
all resolved complaints is 62 working daysjust two months.
This includes a number of very complicated and technical complaints
that do take some months to unravel. Just under two thirds of
cases involving breaches of the Code (63%) are investigated and
resolved in under two months. Compared with legal proceedings
or statutory complaints mechanisms, these figures are impressive,
and there is evidence too that complainants are satisfied with
the length of time taken to handle their complaints (see paragraph
5. The Broadcasting Standards Commission,
commendably, is the only other media regulator which publishes
its complaints handling times. Because of its split remit there
are different times for complaints about fairness and those about
standards. The complaints into fairness are the most directly
equivalent to the sort of issue that the PCC investigates, and
it is notable that the BSC last year took an average of 25 weeks
to adjudicate such complaints and 19 weeks to investigate those
complaints that were not adjudicated. The full table is reproduced
in the Appendix IV.
6. Regrettably, it seems that neither the
ITC nor the Radio Authority, although statutory bodies, publish
Delays that arise from complaints through lawyers
7. Complainants do not need to use a representative
to complain about a breach of the Code. Indeed, to do so can be
counterproductive. Lawyers or representatives make no difference
as to whether or not a complaint is resolvedbecause a resolution
is based on whether or not the Code has been breached and not
on the manner in which the complaint is presented. They also charge
money for a service that would otherwise be free. But more importantly,
they can dilute the effectiveness of the PCC by delaying the time
that it takes for their clientsordinary members of the
public in most casesto obtain redress.
8. In complaints that raised a breach of
the Code and were satisfactorily resolved, complainants who used
a lawyer or other representative had to wait 40% longer than those
who complained on their own behalf. Such complaints took an average
of 84 working days. The PCC has always maintained that any complaints
system that was not based on conciliation would only succeed in
delaying justice for complainants, because such a system would
inevitably involve more lawyers: here is some proof for that assertion.
Satisfaction with resolved complaints
9. The PCC believes that the system of conciliation
delivers effective and efficient redress for members of the publicand
those people whose complaints are resolved seem to agree. According
to our survey of all complainants whose complaint was resolved,
92% thought that their complaint had, overall, been handled satisfactorily
or very satisfactorily. Moreover, 99% thought that the PCC's staff
were helpful or very helpful, whereas 90% considered their complaint
to have been handled thoroughly or very thoroughly. (See Section
A5 and Appendix V).
10. There was also satisfaction about the
amount of time that the Commission took to resolve complaints:
87% thought that it was about right, and just 9% thought it was
too slow. Two per cent thought it was too quick.
Handling emergencies: resolving problems quickly
at times of crisis
11. When major tragedies happen that affect
a large number of people and attract national and international
media attention, the sheer number of journalists can overwhelm
the grieving or the ill. Individual journalists in these circumstances
may not be harassing people but repeated requests from different
journalists for information can have the same effect as far as
those who are approached are concerned.
12. In these circumstances, the Commission
has taken steps to minimise the distress caused to people who
are caught up in terrible events. In recent years, the Commission
has therefore issued private guidance to editorsbefore
receiving any complaintsabout the behaviour of journalists
making enquiries into the tragedies at Dunblane, Omagh and the
Paddington rail disaster.
13. For instance, shortly after the Dunblane
shootings the then Chairman of the PCC circulated a letter to
all national newspaper editors and to the Press Association, which
transmitted the information to the rest of the media. The letter
underlined the numerous different Clauses that journalists must
obey at such times, relating to privacy, harassment, and children,
but in particular relating to intruding into grief and shock.
A few days later the Chairman issued a general press release making
clear that media organisations should, following the Queen's visit,
reduce the scale of their presence in the town to allow the residents
space to grieve and bury their children.
14. Similar reminders about best practice
at such difficult times were circulated after Paddington and Omagh.
In each case we liaised with the relevant authorities, including,
in the latter case, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
In the case of the Paddington rail disaster, the PCC initiated
a special helpline that referred grieving relatives, or those
affected, straight to a senior member of staff for specific advice.
In the event of any future emergency, those affected will be able
to use the PCC's 24-hour emergency advice service, which is staffed
by an experienced complaints officer.
15. Following the terrorist attack on the
twin towers on 11 September 2001, representatives of British families
whose relatives were missing contacted the Commission. Many of
the families welcomed the opportunity to speak to the media and
pay tribute to their relatives as part of the grieving process.
But one or two, understandably, did not want any media attention
at all. The Commission swiftly informed editors of the identity
of these families, and editors respected their privacy and withdrew
their reporters. The PCC effectively acted as a conduit through
which messages to reporters to desist from approaching relatives
were conveyed. Formal complaints were not necessary and not made,
because swift and effective action was taken to address the problem
of cumulative approaches.
16. There are, sadly, from time to time
national crises on such a scale that warrant a pro-active stance
from the Commission. Its role at these times is to issue practical
and common-sense advice to editors in order to minimise the distress
caused by the inevitable presence of reporters at the scenes of
17. The PCC also has a representative on
the Home Office Media Emergency Forum which brings together those
agencies that might be affected by a national emergency or major
incident to plan how responses might be co-ordinated.
18. It is notable that, following widespread
adherence to the PCC's advice, none of the families directly involved
in the disasters outlined here has ever needed to make a formal
19. Fast, free and fair, the PCC's recipe
for obtaining practical and proportional resolutions to complaints
is appreciated by complainantsas set out in paragraphs
eight and nineand has been absorbed by editors who increasingly
apply the principles developed by the PCC when dealing directly
with their readers who have complained. Its flexibility delivers
resolutions tailored to the particular circumstances of a complaint,
and anticipating public needs at times of tragedy has protected
the most vulnerable members of the public from overzealous or
A (5) THE COMPLAINANTS'
1. A fast and effective service is at the
core of the Commission's work. To ensure that we deliver that
service, to provide us with benchmarks against which we can improve
it, and to be able to report back to the public in an accountable
manner on how we handle complaints, we established a Complainants'
Charter in 1996.
The terms of the Charter and its development
2. The commitments in the Charter cover
five key areas:
responding swiftly to enquiriesboth
on the telephone and in writing;
dealing with the complaint as quickly
processing the complaint without
being as accessible as possible to
anyone who needs to complain; and
being as open as possible in our
This Chartera full copy of which is in
Appendix VI (not reproduced here)also commits the
PCC to publishing statistics about the implementation of these
service targets each year in its Annual Review.
3. As soon as we have finished dealing with
a complaint, all complainants whose complaint has resulted in
a formal decision from the PCC are informed that they are able
to complain to an internal Charter Officer if they believe we
have not lived up to the standards contained in it. The Charter
Officer's job is then to investigate the manner in which the complaint
was processed and make recommendations for change accordingly.
In 2002, the Charter Officer only received six complaintswhich
the Commission believes is an encouraging sign that, although
there is of course always scope for improvement, we are living
up as best as possible to the spirit and letter of the Charter.
4. As set out above, the original Charter
was launched in 1996. It was updated in March 2001, when a number
of the service targets were significantly strengthened. These
the setting for the first time of
a target complaints handling time40 working days;
a reduction of the time in which
original letters of complaint are acknowledged from five days
to three days; and
an increase in the range of languages
other than English in which our literature is availablewhich
now also includes Arabic, Chinese, Somali and Gaelic.
5. The Commission will continue to monitor
these targets and to toughen them when it is appropriate to do
How we measure up
6. Set out here are the Charter results
for 2002, which show how we measured up to our five targets. Further
detail on much of this information is also available in Sections
A2 and 3, and Section D.
A. Responding to enquiries
The PCC receives a huge number of enquiries
every year from members of the public about a whole range of issues.
Some of them want more information about our service; some need
advice about dealing with a newspaper; others want details about
our work for their studies.
Last year we received 7,250 such requests. Some
28% were received on our dedicated Helplinesincluding our
Textphone. Just over 24% were made via e-mail and through our
website. The remainderjust under halfwere to the
PCC's main switchboard (the number of which is listed in all main
Our Charter aim is to answer all telephone calls
within four ringsand we achieved that target in 90% of
cases. All e-mails were immediately acknowledgedalthough
some specific requests for detailed information inevitably took
longer to deal with.
B. Dealing quickly with complaints
While advice on the telephone and via e-mail
is a large proportion of our work, the main burden of it is of
course to process formal complaints. In 2002, all complaintswhether
made in writing or submitted by e-mailwere acknowledged
within three working days of receipt. Throughout the complaints
process, complainants were informed of the progress of the complaint
at intervals of every 15 working days.
Our Charter aim is to deal with all complaints
in an average of just 40 working days, far quicker than any other
similar regulatory body (see Section A4). In 2002, the average
time it took to deal with complaints was 32 working days, exactly
the same as last year's record.
Eighty-five per cent of all complaints were
completed within that target periodcompared to a record
proportion of 87% in 2001.
C. Providing a service without cost
For the vast majority of ordinary people, legal
actionswhether against newspapers as indeed against any
other organisationare prohibitively costly. One of the
keys to a successful system of regulation with concern about ordinary
people at its heart is therefore that it should be free.
As a result of the funding provided by the newspaper
and magazine industry, the PCC continues to deal with complaints
at no cost either to complainants or taxpayers.
Some individuals, of course, seek to make complaints
through lawyers, as they are fully entitled to do. Such representation,
however, with the costs it entails is not essential. Indeed, if
anything, complaints made through lawyers tend to take longer
to deal with than complaints made directly by the individuals
concerned. In 2002, while the average time to deal with all complaints
was 32 working days, complaints made through lawyers took an average
of 71 working days122% longer.
D. Being as accessible as possible
Our Charter aim is to ensure our service is
easy to use, and well known to those who might need itin
particular the most vulnerable in society for whom complaining
might well be an ordeal.
As set out above, help on the phone or via e-mail
is easily availableincluding in cases where individuals
may be subject to harassment (see Section A3, para. 16). All callers
are told about the Code and, where appropriate, are sent a copy
along with a leaflet on How to Complain. (The text of the
Code is also on the PCC website, and is available directly from
most newspaper offices.)
Other information about how we seek to be accessibleincluding
the website and assistance for those in particularly vulnerable
positionsis set out in Section A3.
E. Being as open as possible
Transparency is an important part of accountabilityand
we continue to ensure that our procedures and decisions are as
open and clear as possible.
The complaints procedure itself is open and
straightforward. All correspondence takes place in writing, and
both sides to a dispute have the chance to comment on the evidence
of the other party.
Decisions of the Commission are published regularlyboth
via email to editors and all those who have expressed an interest
in the work of the PCC (over 800 people currently subscribe to
the PCC's news service) and in the form of regular quarterly bulletins
which are mailed out to editors, MPs, libraries and other organisations.
Where a complainant feels that we have not lived
up to any of the commitments in the Charter, they can complain
to a Charter Officer (see para 3 above).
Improving standards year on year
7. Part of the aim of the Charter is to
ensure that we continue to seek higher standards, where these
are possible. Our Charter results from previous years are set
out in our Annual Reviewsstarting with the Review of 1997.
They show in particular that:
the average time taken to deal with
a complaint has fallen from 44 working days in 1997 to 32 working
days in 2002 (an improvement of 27%), as this Table shows:
the number of complaints settled
within 40 working days has increased from 77% in 1997 to 85% in
2002 (having touched 87% in 2001), as the Table on the next page
the PCC dealt with an increasing
number of enquiriesup from 4,800 in 1998 (the first year
detailed records were kept) to 7,250 in 2002 (again having touched
8,000 in 2001), as the final Table illustrates:
8. As set out above, the Commission continues
to monitor these targets and results under them. Each year's results
are, where appropriate, taken as a benchmark for the future and,
if possible, action identified to improve on them.
Measuring our success
9. The PCC decided in 2001 that it would
be useful to have an external measure of our standards of service,
and conducted a pilot customer survey to assess what complainants
thought about our service to them. That pilot was a success and
a full customer survey was established from 1 January 2002.
10. The survey covers complainants' views
clarity of our written information;
helpfulness of our staff;
thoroughness of investigation;
speed with which the complaint was
dealt with; and
overall satisfaction with the handling
of the complaint.
11. A survey formwhich can be returned
anonymously to uswas sent to all those whose complaints
we had adjudicated, those which were resolved, those where there
was no breach of the Code, and those where the Commission judged
the editor's offer of remedial action sufficient enough under
the Code to take no further action. The Commission received 347
responses, which was a representative cross-section of different
types of complainant.
12. The surveythe full results of
which, broken down by type of complainant, are set out in Appendix
94% found the PCC's printed information
either "very clear" or "clear"while
only 4% found it unclear;
85% found the PCC's staff either
"very helpful" or "helpful";
61% thought their complaint was dealt
with either "very thoroughly" or "thoroughly";
73% believed the time it took to
deal with their complaint was "about right"while
only 10% thought it was too slow; and
59% said that their complaint had
been handled either "very satisfactorily" or "satisfactorily".
13. The Commission notes the results of
this first ever survey, which has now become a regular part of
the complaints process. The results from 2002 will also become
a benchmark for the future. The results are especially interesting
when it is remembered that 68% of those who returned a survey
form were individuals where it was decided either that their complaints
raised no breach of the Code, or that no further action was necessary
after an offer of remedial action by the publication concerned
following the intervention of the PCC. The results of the survey
among those whose complaints had been successfully resolved were
even higherat 98%, 99%, 90%, 87% and 92% respectively for
each of the above indicators.
Comparison with other regulators
14. The benefit of self-regulation is that
it is flexible and quick. Statutory regulation hampers the job
of dispute resolution, and imports delays into the system. A comparison
of the PCC's complaints handling time with other regulators is
instructive. See Section A4 for details.
15. The Commission is satisfied that the
Complainants' Charter continues to deliver a quick and accessible
service. It will keep its targets under review and strengthen
them when appropriate. And it will use the results of its first
Customer Satisfaction survey as a benchmark for future surveys
SECTION BTHE CODE
B (1) THE CODE
1. The editors' Code of Practice is the
iron frame of the newspaper and magazine industry's moral architecture.
In setting out the responsibilities incumbent on editors, it simultaneously
sets out a comprehensive set of rights for the public who have
a clear understanding of what they should expect from the press.
As such it is an invaluable tool for those who have regular dealings
with the media, as well as those who have cause for complaint.
At the same time, it provides the Commission with a framework
in which to adjudicate on complaints in a fair and consistent
fashion. The Code, in short, is the centrepiece of self-regulation.
2. The Code covers many issues, but it has
at its heart always covered four key areas:
accuracy, comment and fact, opportunity
to reply, and swift corrections;
privacyincluding the use of
pictures of people taken in private places;
rules on the manner in which news
is gatheredlistening devices, subterfuge, harassment, payments
to criminals and witnesses, and financial journalism; and
special protection for particularly
vulnerable groups of peoplechildren, those in hospital,
people suffering from grief and shock, innocent relatives of those
convicted of crimes, victims of sexual assault and people who
might be victims of discrimination.
3. While much of the coverage of the PCC
and of self-regulation has revolved around accuracy and privacy,
the importance in particular of the rules on the vulnerable should
be underlined. This has always been, in many ways, where the Code
has been at its strongestand where, as Section B3 sets
outit can objectively be shown that standards have most
clearly been raised.
4. The editors' Code Committee will doubtless
make its own submission to the Select Committee. This Section
sets out how the Code has developed, demonstrates how it has raised
standards of reporting and a number of other issues.
Background to the establishment of the Code
5. Perhaps the most important point about
the Code is that it exists at all. From the time when the last
licensing laws on newspapers were abolished in 1695, up until
1991, the press rejected all moves to adopt a universal set of
ethical standards. In recent times, for instance, the 1977 Royal
Commission on the Press called for the old Press Council to adopt
a Code which would produce clarity and consistency in its decisions.
The Council and the press rejected the idea out of hand at that
6. It was the Calcutt Committee which returned
to the idea in 1990 and insisted that the PCC should administer
a Code binding all publicationsa point the industry and
the PCC's first Chairman, who insisted that editors themselves
should write it, accepted.
The history of the formulation of the Code is well chronicled
and does not need repetition here. What does need underlining,
however, is the extraordinary change that it required of all publications.
Up until this point, they had never had a universal set of rules
to guide them. From the start of 1991, all editors agreed to abide
by a Code covering a substantial number of ethical areasas
well as to the jurisdiction of a body, which would soon have a
majority of lay people on it, to make judgements on it.
7. As such the importance of the Code's
establishmentalongside an acknowledgement of the fact that
it would inevitably take time to change the culture of news rooms
which for three centuries had been free from any ethical rule
bookcannot be overstated.
8. It should also be underlined that the
Code applies equally to all publicationsnational newspapers,
regional and local newspapers and magazines. That a standard set
of rules to which all publications can subscribe should be established
is also of great significance.
The Code 12 years on
9. Against that background, it should be
of little surprise that the early years of the PCC, and the application
of the Code in its initial stages of development, were difficult
ones. The culture change required by this system of self-regulation
cannot be overstated.
10. Nor, indeed, should the scale of that
culture change in the decade since then. Whatever failings a free
press might have, there is little doubt that the Codeas
we examine laterhas raised standards, and has imbued among
editors a degree of accountability to readers and complainants
which simply never existed before. Furthermore, an entire generation
of journalistsamong them many who are now senior editorshas
grown up with the reality of the Code: rather than learning it
anew, it has always been part of their training. The extent of
this culture change stems from the fact that the rulesput
another way, the self-censorshipis self-imposed. Editors
live up to the standards because they establish them. That simply
would not happen in any system of legal regulation. Newspapers
fight legal muzzles.
11. It is important to emphasise, too, that
editors consistently deal with complaints by reference to the
Code itself. The PCC has never had an instance of where an editor
sought to defend him or herself by reference to anything other
than the Code of Practice. This is also a demonstration of the
culture change that has taken place across the industry.
12. A number of key developments have underlined
the authority of the Code still further:
it is now an important part of the
contract between most publishers and their editorsgiving
the PCC a powerful ultimate sanction (see Sections B4 and E3)and
in the contracts of many journalists too;
it is a cornerstone of journalist
training, and knowledge of it is a part of the NCTJ exams that
trainees undergo (see Section D4);
compliance with it is written into
important pieces of legislation that affect both the rights of
the public and the responsibilities of the press (see Section
the Code's termsand the Commission's
interpretation of themhave formed a key part in judgements
by the Court of Appeal and others under the Human Rights Act.
13. Furthermore, the Code is of growing
importance in a new area which presents challenges for all regulatorsthat
of on-line publications. Following consultation between the Commission
and the industry in 1997, it was agreed that the Commission's
jurisdiction, and that of the Code, would apply to all on-line
versions of newspapers and magazines which were already subject
to the terms of the Code.
14. This important development underlines
the commitment of editors to high standards in their on-line publicationsand
of the PCC to policing a difficult area that certainly does not
lend itself to any form of legal control. It also cuts off the
possibility that some newspapers might use their own websites
to publish material which they could not publish in their off-line
versions because it breached the Code. The Code is therefore already
playing an important part in establishing a culture of ethics
and responsibility on the Internetan area where is recognised
that statutory controls would be useless.
The Code and accountability
15. Section E6 deals with the way in which
the Commission, and self-regulation, are accountable to the public,
as well as the scrutiny to which the system is rightly subjected.
But it should be underlined here that the Code also is one of
the crucial ways in which the industry holds itself accountable.
16. First of all it providesas set
out abovean objective set of standards which the public
can expect newspapers to meet. But it also allows the public an
opportunity to help frame the rules to which editors subject themselves.
The Code Committee will consider representations from any member
of the public, or any organisation, about possible changes and
consider them carefully. That interaction between press, PCC and
public is an important part of making self-regulationwhich
in the circumstance might perhaps be described as civil regulationwork
1 A summary of the issues with a personal viewpoint
from Professor Robert Pinker. Back
Churchill, "The Grand Alliance" (1950), Ch. 24 especially. Back
Indeed, the point has recently been acknowledged by the United
Nations-see Section F1, p 203. Back
See para. 3 above, and Section C5. Back
This is dealt with more fully in Sections C5 and E6. Back
See Section E3. Back
Committee on Privacy and Related Matters, Cmnd 1102, May 1990
The figure for 1996 was-at that point-an historical high as the
result of the substantial number of complaints the PCC received
about coverage of the Euro `96 football championships. Back
Since 1998, these three Clauses have been joined together in the
first two Clauses of the Code. Back
See in particular B3 Ev 177. Back
For more information on the website, see Section D5. Back
The PCC's procedures have been reviewed twice by the Administrative
Court, and on each occasion given a clean bill of health. See
Section E6 for further details. Back
See also Section A4, paras 11-17. Back
For comparisons with other regulators, where this is possible,
see Section A4. Back
Something of great importance to members of the public-see Section
For example de Silva/Wijeyesinghe v Sunday Times, Report
56. The Commission considered that the time taken to correct acknowledged
inaccuracies was too long and found that "while the record
had been set straight, the Commission did not believe this had
been carried out with the speed required under the Code and therefore
found a breach of Clause 1". Back
A view confirmed in a recent MORI survey-see Section D1. Back
For details on time delays involved in the resolution of complaints,
see Section A4. Back
Professor Richard Shannon, "A Press Free and Responsible"
(2001), p.16. Back
Indeed, the Newspaper Publishers Association had committed the
national press to a short Code in November 1989. Back