Press Complaints Commission Halton House, 20-23 High Holborn, EC1N 7JD
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HISTORY

The press in the UK has been subject to self-regulation for over sixty years. The self-regulatory era began with the creation of a voluntary Press Council in 1953, which aimed to maintain high ethical standards of journalism and to promote press freedom.

However, during the 1980s, a small number of publications failed in the view of many to observe the basic ethics of journalism. This in turn reinforced a belief among many members of Parliament that the Press Council, which had lost the confidence of some in the press, was not a sufficiently effective body. Some of them believed that it would be preferable to enact a law of privacy and right of reply as well as to set up a statutory press council wielding enforceable legal sanctions.

Given the serious implications of such a course of action, the Government appointed a Departmental Committee under David Calcutt QC to consider the matter. His task was “to consider what measures (whether legislative or otherwise) are needed to give further protection to individual privacy from the activities of the press and improve recourse against the press for the individual citizen”.

Calcutt's report was published in June 1990. Rather than suggesting new statutory controls, it recommended the setting up of a new Press Complaints Commission in place of the Press Council. The new Commission would have eighteen months to demonstrate “that non-statutory self-regulation can be made to work effectively. This is a stiff test for the press. If it fails, we recommend that a statutory system for handling complaints should be introduced.”

The press responded with vigour to the report and acted with great speed and co-operation to set up an independent Press Complaints Commission at the beginning of 1991.

Crucially, a committee of national and regional editors produced for the very first time a formal Code of Practice for the new Press Complaints Commission to administer. All publishers and editors committed themselves to abiding by the Code and to ensuring secure and adequate funding of the PCC. (A history of how the Code has developed over the years can be found here, while the current Code of Practice is available here).

A Press Standards Board of Finance(Pressbof), modelled on the self-regulatory system established by the advertising industry in 1974, was established and charged with raising a levy upon the newspaper and periodical industries to finance the Commission. This arrangement ensures secure financial support for the PCC in a way that underpins its independence, since the Commission is not itself responsible for obtaining funds directly from newspapers and magazines.

After overcoming the teething problems associated with most new organisations, the PCC has continued to grow in stature - building on the accomplishments of its early years. In 1995 the then Government recognised the achievements of the PCC in making effective press self-regulation in its White Paper – “Privacy and Media Intrusion”. In 2003 House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select committee concluded that “overall, standards of press behaviour, the Code and the performance of the Press Complaints Commission have improved over the last decade”. A further inquiry into self-regulation of the press by the Select Committee in 2007 concluded that the system of self regulation should be maintained for the press, and that there was no case for a statutory regulator. It further concluded that a privacy law was undesirable. To read the PCC’s response to the report, click here.

A 2009 Select Committee report into "Press Standards, Privacy and Libel" stated that "self-regulation of the press is greatly perferable to statutory regulation, and should continue". To read the PCC's full response to the report, click here.

The previous Labour government voiced its support for self regulation. In December 2007, the then DCMS Minister Margaret Hodge MP said the following:

“The Government strongly supports freedom of speech and a free press. It is therefore appropriate that there should be a system of self-regulation. We are generally satisfied that the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice is both adequate and appropriate for its purpose. We therefore have no intention of bringing forward any new proposals.”

The Prime Minister, the Right Hon. David Cameron MP has also publicly stated his support for self-regulation. Speaking to Press Gazette at the British Press Awards in April 2008 when he was Leader of the Opposition, he stated:

“We’ve no plans to change self-regulation. I think the PCC has settled down and the system is now working better than it once did. But that’s not to say that there isn’t an on-going need to make sure the press acts responsibly”.

Anyone interested in reading a more detailed account of the history of the PCC is advised to read ‘A Press Free and Responsible: Self-regulation and the Press Complaints Commission 1991 - 2001’ by Richard Shannon, published by John Murray (2001).

In November 2012, Lord Hunt, Chair of the PCC, responded to the publication of Lord Justice Leveson's Report.

Following the recommendations Sir Brian Leveson made in his Report published in November 2012, the magazine and newspaper industries have been creating a new, self-regulatory body - the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), in accordance with the Leveson principles. It is expected that IPSO will commence operations in September 2014. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the PCC will therefore be closing down in September.

 
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