Pinker: "up to the challenge"
The far-reaching global effects of September 11 have been felt even at the Press Complaints Commission.
Its annual report for 2001 reveals that 13 per cent more complaints were made about racial discrim-
ination, especially about the reporting of asylum and immigration, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US.
The rise saw the PCC take the opportunity to remind editors of the crucial importance of accurate reporting, to distinguish comment from fact, and to make no discrim-
ination on the grounds of race or religion against named individuals when it rejected a complaint about strong comments on Muslims by a Daily Express columnist.
The increase has also involved the commission in substantial work with groups involved in the care of refugees and asylum seekers.
Commission staff have spoken at relevant conferences and attended events on Muslims and the community, organised by the Muslim Council of Great Britain.
The report says the PCC is to continue to liaise closely with all groups who may be affected by potential discrimination in reporting.
In addition, the Editors’ Code Committee heard the views of organisations and members of the public on race and discrimination in reporting.
While it did not lead to changes in the code, the committee felt it made them aware of public concerns and how best to tackle them.
In a year when there have been some high-profile complainants –the Prime Minister and the Palace among them – the commission is keen to stress that "contrary to popular, ill-founded misconceptions", 90 per cent are from ordinary people temporarily caught in the spotlight of media attention.
"Only 86 complaints, or 3 per cent out of 3,033, were from famous people in the public eye. The remaining 7 per cent came from organisations," noted the report.
It was a record year for complaints, up 36 per cent on 2000, and more were resolved in record time – 32 days.
But "it would be folly to pretend", said acting chairman Robert Pinker, that the year had been a straightforward one.
The commission lost its chairman Lord Wakeham in the Enron scandal and a number of broadsheet editors have questioned the way in which it is run.
It has also had to watch as the courts have encroached on its territory, presiding over claims by some celebrities that their privacy has been abused under the Human Rights Act.
But the turbulent times had proved the mettle of the organisation, said Pinker.
"The task of the PCC in the years ahead is to show that we continue to be up to the difficult challenge of balancing the protection of individual privacy with the public’s right to know.
"It is also up to the PCC to show that we will, in many ways, be tougher than the courts in defining legitimate areas of public interest," he stated.