PCC is 'more active than judges' in defending privacy

Press Complaints Commission chairman Baroness Buscombe has claimed the watchdog is ‘more active than judges” when it comes to defending people’s privacy.

Buscombe also said the PCC‘s anti-harrasment system has a “near 100 per cent success rate” and that people struggled to judge the regulator’s success because much of its work was done “below the surface”.

The PCC’s 2010 annual review, which was released today, reveals that 557 – or 23 per cent – of complaints “with merit” received by the regulator in 2010 related to privacy.

In her introduction to the review Buscombe said one of her biggest frustrations was convincing people its enforcement of the Editors’ Code of Practice, particularly in relation to privacy, is effective.

‘It is a straightforward problem: success must often be measured by the invisible,’she said. ‘A lot of the effective work performed by the PCC is below the surface.

‘It is reflected in the articles that do not appear, the journalists that do not turn up on someone’s doorstep and the stories that are not pursued.

‘Many people contact us to use our anti-harassment mechanism whereby messages to editors to call off their photographers and reporters are passed on.

‘It has a near 100 per cent success rate. Amid all the talk of super-injunctions and the peril they pose to free expression, we should remember that the PCC operates a pre-publication service that can work with editors to prevent intrusion before it happens.

‘We are more active than judges in defending people’s privacy, and do so while balancing the protection of the individual with the right of free speech.”

The latest figures from the PCC show it received more than 7,000 complaints last year (including multiple complaints) and made rulings or brokered resolutions in 1,687 cases.

The total number of complaints was well down on 2009’s figure of around 37,000, most of which were triggered by a controversial column in the Daily Mail about the death of Stephen Gately by Jan Moir.

Some 750 last year’s complaints were considered to be a ‘likely breach’of the code – up from 738 in 2009.

Of the 1,687 complaints pursued by the PCC, most (87.2) per cent were in relation to accuracy and opportunity to reply, followed by privacy (23.7 per cent), discrimination (3.3 per cent), subterfuge (0.9 per cent), and ‘other’ (0.4 per cent).

50.3 per cent involved national newspapers – down from 51.5 per cent in 2009 – and 33.7 per cent involved regional newspapers, up 0.4 per cent on the previous year.

Scottish titles accounted for 8.7 per cent of complaints, Northern Irish 2.1 per cent and magazines 4.9 per cent.

The PCC figures also show that of the 750 likely breaches, 544 complaints were resolved to the satisfaction of complainants and there were 188 occasions where it concluded that ‘remedial action taken or offered by a newspaper or magazine was adequate, even though an agreement between complainant and publication could not be reached”.

More than 100 anti-harrasment warnings were issued in 2010 – up from 69 in 2009.

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