'A serious paparazzi harassment complaint is only a matter of time'

Press Complaints Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer has issued a robust defence of the PCC's ability to deal with privacy complaints.

Speaking as the PCC published its 15th annual report, Meyer pointed out that the watchdog dealt with 228 privacy complaints of which 119 were found to possibly breach the code and 97 were resolved.

He said this compares to just a handful of privacy cases going through the courts and contradicts predictions that the Human Rights Act, passed eight years ago, would render the PCC obselete by providing a legal right to privacy.

Of these complaints, some 2.7 per cent involved people in the public eye.

Most — 54 per cent — involved the regional press, compared with 31.2 per cent for the nationals.

Meyer said: "On the record so far, and especially because we have the power to stop harassment in its tracks, the PCC continues to have the advantage over the courts of offering clearer guidance as to where the boundaries lie in newsgathering; and swifter action where those boundaries are transgressed.

"This is why, under the broad heading of privacy, we received last year very few formal complaints of harassment."

Meyer said he had heard "alarming stories about the paparazzi in pursuit of their prey", but added that the PCC had yet to deal with a serious allegation stemming from a photo in a British publication.

But he added: "It will probably be only a matter of time before the commission is asked to investigate, on the back of a photo published in Britain, a serious complaint of paparazzi harassment that is backed up by video or other evidence.

"If it is, and there is no public interest justification, the industry can be assured that our condemnation will be swift and harsh. It is not right that the physical safety of individuals should be compromised in the pursuit of a photo."

Meyer hit back at Lord Justice Sedley, who recently called for statutory regulation of the press to protect privacy.

He said: "Among the PCC's characteristics are its flexibility and its capacity to adapt swiftly to changed circumstances.

It is hard to see how these qualities could be replicated, either through the law or by an organisation based on statute. For example, our code has been amended over 30 times since the PCC's inception 15 years ago."

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