Big increase in complaints down to higher PCC profile'

More than 400 people complained about these images of Cameroon footballer Marc-Vivien Foe who collapsed on the pitch and later died

The Press Complaints Commission received a record number of complaints last year – up 39 per cent to 3,649. But chairman Sir Christopher Meyer says the figures are not necessarily a reflection of lower journalism standards but rather of the PCC’s higher profile.

He said: “This remarkable increase in the overall number of complaints reflects the continuing high profile of the commission, the proactive work that we do in educating people about how to use the code, the lengths to which we have gone to make complaining easy and the increasing willingness of members of the public to complain in numbers about issues that they feel strongly about.”

He added: “I am very pleased that the number of resolved complaints greatly outstripped the increase in complaints that fell under the code.”

There was a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints resolved by the commission. In 2002 the PCC received 2,630 complaints, in 2001 there were 3,033 and in 2000 there were 2,225.

A detailed breakdown of the 2003 figures will be provided in the PCC’s annual report to be published at the end of next month.

The PCC also this week announced the appointment of a new lay member and named the members of a new committee to oversee its work.

Eve Salmon is a solicitor who has previously held positions on the Radio Authority and the Independent Television Commission. She was one of more than 1,000 applicants for the role and her appointment means there are now 10 lay members on the committee and seven editors.

As part of his plans for “permanent evolution” of the commission, Meyer announced last year that a panel would be appointed to scrutinise its handling of complaints. The members of the Charter Compliance Panel have now been announced and they: Sir Brian Cubbon, former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office and a former member of the PCC; Dame Ruth Runciman, former chairman of the Mental Health Act Commission and an ex-PCC member, and Charles Wilson, former editor of The Times.

In addition, Cubbon has agreed to become the first independent Charter Commissioner. He will deal with criticism any complainants may have about the way the PCC has handled their cases.

Meyer said: “The creation of the panel will add another layer of accountability to our work and reassure complainants that what we do is carried out under a high degree of scrutiny. I am particularly pleased that such eminent people have agreed to serve on the panel. This will ensure that its authority is beyond question.”

The panel will have the power to review any aspect of the PCC’s handling of complaints and make recommendations for improvements in a published report.

 

The Editors’ Code of Practice is to have its biggest review since the one prompted by the death of the Princess of Wales.

That review in 1997 was sparked by concern that paparazzi were to blame for the crash which killed the princess.

The reappraisal begins next month and is the first in a series of “health checks” announced last year by Meyer. The Code of Practice Committee has invited the industry and the public to suggest how the code might be improved or simplified.

Committee chairman Les Hinton said: “We believe the code has performed very well over those years, but it is important that it should be constantly reviewed to maintain its effectiveness in the face of constantly changing challenges.

“We urge both the industry and the public to join us in this exercise. It is the industry’s code, but it is there to serve the public. All who believe in a robust and independent press have a mutual interest in its ultimate effectiveness and success.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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