Press Complaints Commission

From Academic Kids

The Press Complaints Commission is a British organisation that has regulated printed newspapers and magazines since 1990. The Commission is funded by the annual levy it charges newspapers and magazines. It has no legal powers - all newspapers and magazines voluntarily contribute to the costs of, and adhere to the rulings of, the Commission, effectively making the industry self-regulating.

As of 2004, the chairman of the Commission is Sir Christopher Meyer.



The pre-cursor to the PCC was the Press Council, a voluntary press organisation founded in 1953 with the aim of maintaining high standards of ethics in journalism. However in the late 1980s, several newspapers breached these standards and others were unsatisfied with the effectiveness of the council. The Home Office thus set up a departmental committee, headed by Sir David Calcutt, to investigate whether 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 its effectiveness. Should it fail, the report continued, a legally-empowered body would replace it. Members of the press, keen to avoid external regulation, established the Press Complaints Commission and its Code of Practice. Any member of the public, whether a relative unknown or a high-profile figure, was now able to bring a complaint against a publication that had volunteered to meet the standards of the Code. Members of the Commission adjudicate whether the Code has indeed been broken, and, if so, suggest appropriate measures of correction. These have included the printing of a factual correction, an apology or letters from the original complainant. The Commission does not impose financial penalties on newspapers found to have broken the Code.

The first high-profile case handled by the PCC was brought by HRH The Duke of York who claimed that the press were invading the privacy of his small children. The complaint was upheld.

The Commission's first chairman was Lord McGregor of Durris. He was succeeded by Lord Wakeham in 1995. He resigned in January 2002 after concerns over a conflict of interest when the Enron Corporation collapsed. He had been a member of the company's audit committee. The current chairman, Sir Christopher Meyer, was appointed in 2002 following a brief period of interim chairmanship by Professor Robert Pinker.

The Code of Practice

The section titles of the code of practice on which judgements are as follows:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Opportunity to reply
  3. Privacy
  4. Harassment
  5. Intrusion into grief or shock
  6. Children
  7. Children in sex cases
  8. Listening Devices
  9. Hospitals
  10. Reporting of crime.
  11. Misrepresentation
  12. Victims of sexual assault
  13. Discrimination
  14. Financial journalism
  15. Confidential sources
  16. Witness payments in criminal trials
  17. Payment to criminals

The Commission today

In 2002, the PCC received 2,630 complaints from members of the public. Around 60% of these were related to alleged factual inaccuracies, 25% relating to alleged invasions of privacy and the rest included the lack of right to reply, harassment and obtaining information using covert devices. 90% of cases were resolved to the complainants' satisfaction. Around 30 of the cases were adjudicated by the Commission before being resolved as the complainants were initially not satisfied by the action recommended by the Commission.

Recently, many publishers have added clauses to the contracts of editors of newspapers and magazines giving them the option to dismiss editors who are judged to have breached the PCC Code of Practice. The PCC and its adherents claim that by attaching personal significance to the role of the PCC in the editors' mind, its role has become more effective.

Newspapers and the PCC itself are usually quick to claim the success of the PCC and self-regulation of the press. Indeed the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, congratulated the PCC on its successes during the week of the Commission's tenth anniversary. Others however are critical of the organisation. Labour MP Clive Soley, speaking in the same week, said "Other regulatory bodies are far stronger, far more pro-active and really do represent the consumer. There are no consumer rights people on the PCC and that is a major failing." The PressWise Trust, a charitable organisation set up to help people in their dealings with the press says that the self-regulation system has proved to help the rich but not the poor.

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