Panel recommends changes to improve PCC procedures

By Dominic Ponsford

A total of 59 complaints were made about the Press Complaints
Commission in 2004 to the body’s new independent Charter Compliance
Panel.

As a result, the panel has suggested in its annual report a number of changes to the way the PCC operates.

But
it said: “In general we are satisfied that complainants receive a high
standard of service from the commission and the staff.”

The panel
has recommended that the PCC “tries to sort out problems” in selected
cases where newspapers have not actually breached the code.

It has also extended the time limit for complaints from one to two months.

To
avoid a “misleading impression of too close a relationship between
commission staff and editors”, it has asked PCC staff to no longer use
first names in letters to newspapers on PCC headed paper.

The PCC has been asked to scan the press for “discriminatory words” with reference to mental illness.

The panel also advised journalists to take care with headlines that could intrude into grief or shock.

It
recommended that newspapers automatically tell those who complain to
them about the PCC and that newspapers provide “regular slots” giving
details about the watchdog.

Complaints were reconsidered in three
cases. PCC director Tim Toulmin personally apologised to the
complainant for the delay in three cases, and for a minor error of fact
in another.

PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer said: “I am
pleased to welcome the first reports of the Charter Commissioner and
Charter Compliance Panel.

“Their scrutiny of our procedures will
ensure that both the public at large and those who use the PCC can have
faith in the transparency and accountability of the system.

“They have also produced some valuable recommendations which will further improve our standards of service.”

The Charter Compliance Panel consists of Sir Brian Cubbon, Dame Ruth Runciman and Charles Wilson.

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