Press Complaints Commission

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Press Complaints Commission

  1. 1. Press Complaints CommissionThe Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is a voluntary regulatory body for Britishprinted newspapers and magazines, consisting of representatives of the majorpublishers. The PCC is funded by the annual levy it charges newspapers andmagazines. It has no legal powers – all newspapers and magazines voluntarilycontribute to the costs of, and adhere to the rulings of, the Commission, making theindustry self-regulating.[1]The PCC received extensive criticism for its lack of action in the News of the Worldphone hacking affair, including from MPs and Prime Minister David Cameron, whocalled for it to be replaced with a new system in July 2011.[2]Lord Hunt was appointed Chairman of the Commission in October 2011.[3] InDecember 2011 Lord Hunt announced his plans to replace the PCC with a newindependent regulator.[4]Hunt also wants to introduce a voluntary, paid-for, kitemarking system for blogs. Thekitemark would indicate that the blogger has agreed to strive for accuracy, and tobe regulated. Bloggers would lose their kitemark if complaints against them wererepeatedly upheld. He plans to start the roll-out by targeting bloggers that covercurrent affairs.When asked about his proposals in an interview Hunt said “At the moment, it is likethe Wild West out there. We need to appoint a sheriff.”HistoryThe precursor to the PCC was the Press Council, a voluntary press organisationfounded in 1953 with the aim of maintaining high standards of ethics in journalism.However in the late 1980s, several newspapers breached these standards andothers were unsatisfied with the effectiveness of the council. The Home Office thusset up a departmental committee, headed by Sir David Calcutt, to investigatewhether a body with formal legal powers should be created to regulate the industry.The report, published in June 1990, concluded that a voluntary body, with a full,published code of conduct should be given eighteen months to prove itseffectiveness. Should it fail, the report continued, a legally-empowered body wouldreplace it. Members of the press, keen to avoid external regulation, established thePress Complaints Commission and its Code of Practice.The first high-profile case handled by the PCC was brought by HRH The Duke of Yorkwho claimed that the press were invading the privacy of his small children. Thecomplaint was upheld.The Commissions first chairman was Lord McGregor of Durris. He was succeeded byLord Wakeham in 1995. He resigned in January 2002 after concerns over a conflict of
  2. 2. interest when the Enron Corporation collapsed. He had been a member of thecompanys audit committee. Sir Christopher Meyer was appointed in 2002 followinga brief period of interim chairmanship by Professor Robert Pinker, leaving in 2008.In 2006, the PCC received 3,325 complaints from members of the public. Around twothirds of these were related to alleged factual inaccuracies, one in five related toalleged invasions of privacy and the rest included the lack of right to reply,harassment and obtaining information using covert devices. 90% of cases wereresolved to the complainants satisfaction. 31 of the cases were adjudicated by theCommission before being resolved as the complainants were initially not satisfied bythe action recommended by the Commission.[7]In 2009 the PCC received more than 25,000 complaints, a record number, after anarticle appeared in the Daily Mail written by Jan Moir about the death of Boyzonesinger Stephen Gately. Moir had described events leading up the death as "sleazy"and "less than respectable". On 17 February the PCC confirmed that although it was"uncomfortable with the tenor of the columnists remarks", it would not uphold thecomplaints made.[8]As of 12 January 2011, the Northern and Shell group (often referred to as the ExpressGroup) of publications withdrew its subscription to the PCC. According to the PCC,"a refusal to support the self-regulatory system financially means that a newspaperpublisher effectively withdraws from the PCCs formal jurisdiction, which the PCCconsiders regrettable". Consequently the Daily & Sunday Express, Scottish Daily &Sunday Express, Daily & Sunday Star, OK!, New magazine and Star magazine are nolonger bound by the PCCs code of practice, and the public no longer has recourseto making complaints through the PCC.[9]The Guardian newspaper reported[10] in May 2011 that social media messages are tobe brought under the remit of the PCC after it ruled in February 2011 thatinformation posted on Twitter should be considered public and publishable bynewspapers.[11]The Code of PracticeAny member of the public, whether a relative unknown or a high-profile figure, isable to bring a complaint against a publication that had volunteered to meet thestandards of the Code. Members of the Commission adjudicate whether the Codehas indeed been broken, and, if so, suggest appropriate measures of correction.These have included the printing of a factual correction, an apology or letters fromthe original complainant. The Commission does not impose financial penalties onnewspapers found to have broken the Code.Many publishers have added clauses to the contracts of editors of newspapers andmagazines giving them the option to dismiss editors who are judged to havebreached the PCC Code of Practice. The PCC and its adherents claim that byattaching personal significance to the role of the PCC in the editors mind, its rolehas become more effective.
  3. 3. The section titles of the code of practice on which judgements are made are asfollows: 1. Accuracy 2. Opportunity to reply 3. Privacy 4. Harassment 5. Intrusion into grief or shock 6. Children 7. Children in sex cases 8. Hospitals 9. Reporting of crime 10. Misrepresentation 11. Victims of sexual assault 12. Discrimination 13. Financial journalism 14. Confidential sources 15. Witness payments in criminal trials 16. Payment to criminalsCriticismIn 2001, LabourMPClive Soley said that "other regulatory bodies are far stronger, farmore pro-active and really do represent the consumer. There are no consumer rightspeople on the PCC and that is a major failing".[12]Journalist Nick Davies criticized the PCC for failing to investigate the vast majority ofcomplaints on technical grounds in his book Flat Earth News (2008), an expose ofmodern British newspaper journalism. The MediaWise Trust, a charitable organisationset up to help people in their dealings with the press says that the self-regulationsystem has proved to help the rich but not the poor.[citation needed]Phone hackingIn February 2010 the Commission was described as "toothless"[13] by the House ofCommons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee investigating the News of theWorld phone hacking affair.During a House of Commons emergency debate into the same affair on 6 July 2011,MPs described the PCC as well-meaning but a joke, and as much use as achocolate teapot.In a press conference on 8 July 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron described thePCC as inadequate and absent during the phone hacking affair, and implied thatthe organisation would have to be reformed or replaced.
  4. 4. Self-regulationThe 2009 British investigative documentary Starsuckers exposed the request to obtainmedical records of celebrities by many of the red-top UK tabloids, and the lack ofPCC action against the papers that had broken the PCC charter.[14] The tabloids ranthe bogus stories about the likes of Amy Winehouse, Pixie Geldof and Guy Ritchie.Secretly interviewed reporters claimed that "the PCC is run by the newspaperEditors", "Getting a PCC isnt great, but, a lot of papers just brush it aside, all it is, is alittle apology somewhere in the paper, you get a slap on the wrist, you get reportedby the PCC, but theres no money".[15] The PCC took no action against the papersthat ran these stories but did respond with a letter to the Editor of The BelfastTelegraph.[16] Chris Atkins the documentarys director response was that the PCChad yet still not acted on the issue of several newspapers breaking their Code ofconduct 8.2.FundingOn 24 August 2011, the New Left Project published an article[18] by Julian Petley,arguing that the PCC is "not, and never has been, a regulator": he presents the casethat the PCC is the equivalent of the customer services department of any largecorporate organisation, responding to customer complaints for most of the Britishpress. The PCC responded to this article[19] on their own website, asserting that thePCC is a regulatory organisation which very regularly intervenes "proactively andpre-publication to prevent tabloid and broadsheet stories appearing" and JonathanCollett asserts that this method has an "almost 100% success rate". Petley respondedto Collett in the New Left Project on 26 August[20], asserting that the PCC "lackssufficient sanctions to be able to punish effectively those who breach its Code" andthat the problem is not the PCC but its funding (See Press Standards Board ofFinance.)

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