Press Complaints Commission
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The Press Complaints Commisison is currently in a state of transition therefore some of the information below may be subject to change.

the future of the pcc

  1. I've read that the PCC is closing down. Is this true?
  2. Can I still make a complaint?
  3. I have a complaint already registered with the PCC. What will happen to it?

the complaints process

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  1. Does the PCC deal with all newspapers and magazines in the UK?
  2. How does the PCC complaints process work?
  3. When does the PCC formally investigate a complaint?
  4. What are some of the ways that my complaint might be resolved?
  5. What happens if my complaint can't be resolved?
  6. What is the PCC's greatest sanction?
  7. The PCC says that critical adjudications must be published with 'due prominence'. What do you mean by this?
  8. Do publications try to bury your adjudications and apologies?
  9. Why doesn't the PCC impose fines on newspapers and magazines?
  10. Can anyone complain to the PCC?
  11. Do I need a solicitor to help me make a complaint?
  12. How much will it cost me to complain to the PCC?
  13. Can I get financial compensation through the PCC?
  14. How long will it take the PCC to deal with my complaint?
  15. You won't accept 'unduly delayed' complaints. What does this mean?
  16. What sort of cases can the PCC generally not deal with?
  17. I have a disability which makes it difficult for me to complain. Can the PCC still help me?
  18. I find it difficult to write at length in English. Can I make my complaint in a foreign language?
  19. Can I submit my complaint online or does it have to be by post?
  20. Can I contact the PCC out of office hours?
  21. Can I speak to someone for advice before submitting my complaint?
  22. Can I appeal against a PCC decision?
  23. Do you have any printed information about how to complain?
  24. The editor of the publication I wish to complain about is a member of the Commission. Will they get to make a decision on my complaint?
The Code of Practice
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  1. Do you have any advice on specific areas of the Code of Practice?
  2. Can I see what kind of cases the PCC has dealt with already under a particular Clause of the Code?
  3. Why does the Code not cover issues of taste and decency?
  4. Can newspapers report whatever is revealed in a court or inquest, even if it is upsetting?
  5. Why does Clause 12 (Discrimination) apply only to named individuals rather than groups of people?
  6. Are there specific regulations in the Code that apply to photographs?
  7. Can I complain about cartoons?
  8. Can the PCC change the wording of the Code?
  9. Can I make suggestions as to how the Code might be changed?
  10. How does the PCC define the term ‘public interest'?
  11. If the Code of Practice is written by editors and self regulation is funded by newspapers and magazines, how does the PCC remain independent?
  12. Would it be easier if print and broadcast media all came under the same Code and the same authority?
  13. Does the Code cover online publications?
  14. Does the PCC deal with complaints about audio-visual material?
  15. What about user-generated content - does the Code cover this too?
  16. Are ‘citizen journalists' covered by the terms of the Code?
  17. Does the Code still apply to the reporting of war or are there other regulations placed on newspapers and magazines at those times?
  18. Can a newspaper publish articles which are biased in favour of one political party over another?
the pcc: remit, structure and governance
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  1. What does 'self regulation' actually mean and how does it work?
  2. How are Commission members appointed?
  3. What is the background of the full-time PCC staff?
  4. How is the PCC funded?
  5. Why should I use the PCC rather than the courts?
  6. What kind of proactive work do you do? Do you monitor the whole of the UK press?
  7. Why is there only one PCC office, based in London? Why aren't there offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
  8. Do PCC's exist in other countries?
  9. Are people still using the PCC for privacy matters rather than going to law?
  10. Why isn't the PCC subject to the Freedom of Information Act?
  11. How does the PCC work to raise standards aside from dealing with complaints?
  12. Does the PCC publish the minutes of Commission meetings?
common scenarios
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  1. I'm being harassed by a journalist/photographer but I don't want to speak to them. What should I do?
  2. I spoke to a journalist from 'X' publication but now my story has been published elsewhere. I didn't give permission for this - is my story allowed to be sold on this way?
  3. The headline of an article I have read only gives one side of the story. Surely this is misleading under Clause 1 of the Code?
  4. I posted some photos on my Facebook/Bebo/Myspace page, and now they've been published in a magazine/newspaper. Is this allowed?
  5. Can a newspaper or magazine publish a photograph of me to illustrate a story without my permission?
  6. I spoke to a journalist who said it would be on an 'off the record' basis. What does this actually mean?
  7. I am not the person directly involved in the report that I want to complain about. Can the PCC still help?
  8. I am worried about an article that I think is going to appear in a newspaper or magazine. Can you stop it from being published?

If you have a question that is not covered here, please feel free to contact us for advice.

THE FUTURE OF THE PCC


1. I've read that the PCC is closing down. Is this true?

The Press Complaints Commission is currently in a phase of transition; and it will soon be replaced by a new structure of independent self-regulation for the newspaper and magazine industries. 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.

In the meantime, the PCC will continue to deal with complaints from members of the public, which can be made in the normal way throughout the transition period. All complaints that are already being handled on the closing date of the PCC will be carried over to IPSO. The terms of the Editors' Code of Practice remain the same, and members of PCC staff are available at any time to offer advice, including on an emergency out-of-hours basis for concerns relating to harassment or attention from journalists and photographers.

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2. Can I still make a complaint?

Yes, absolutely. Complaints can be made in the normal way throughout the transition period. The terms of the Editors' Code of Practice remain the same, and members of PCC staff are available at any time to offer advice, including on an emergency out-of-hours basis for concerns relating to harassment or attention from journalists and photographers.

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3. I have a complaint already registered with the PCC. What will happen to it?

Your complaint will continue to be handled according to our normal procedures. There is no need to contact us about this, though please feel free to do so if you have a particular concern you wish to discuss.

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the complaints process
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1. Does the PCC deal with all newspapers and magazines in the UK?

We can formally consider complaints about most commercially available UK newspapers and magazines, provided that they subscribe to our funding body, PressBof. Please note that from January 2010, we are unable to deal with complaints about titles published by Northern & Shell. These titles are: Daily Express; Sunday Express; Scottish Daily Express; Scottish Sunday Express; Daily Star; Daily Star Sunday; OK!; New magazine; and Star magazine. This is due to a funding dispute between Northern & Shell and PressBof. For a full explanation of this, please click here.

For new complaints about any of these publication, we will pass on the relevant Northern & Shell contact details to the complainant.

In some other cases where a newspaper or magazine does not fall under the PCC's jurisdiction, we can pass on correspondence to the relevant editor -although this will depend on the circumstances of the complaint.

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2. How does the PCC complaints process work?

The PCC's principle role in any complaint is essentially to act as a dispute resolution service. Through a process of mediation between the complainant and the editor, we will try to come up with a resolution that is - primarily - satisfactory to you. Our approach is non-confrontational, non-bureaucratic and our services are totally free to use. We work transparently and all correspondence is seen by both sides so you are always clear about what the publication is proposing. You can find out more about our complaints process here.

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3. When does the PCC formally investigate a complaint?

If a complaint falls within our remit (and is neither delayed nor subject to related legal proceedings - see paragraph below) we will assess whether it raises a possible breach of the Editors' Code of Practice. This may include further correspondence with the complainant to establish their complaint clearly. If we think the complaint does not raise a breach of the Code, we will explain why to the complainant. If we think it does, we will initiate an investigation by writing to the editor of the relevant publication.

Please note that the Commission cannot deal with any complaint which is the subject of legal or other associated proceedings. You should let us know immediately if you decide to take legal action in regard to the matter under complaint. You should also tell us immediately if you decide to withdraw your complaint for any reason. Please read the Procedures for the Consideration of Complaints which explains this in more detail.

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4. What are some of the ways that my complaint might be resolved?

We will always try to negotiate a resolution that you are satisfied with - but that is reasonable in the circumstances. Typical examples will include: the publication of a correction, apology, follow-up piece or letter from you; a private letter of apology from the editor; an undertaking as to future conduct by the newspaper; the annotation of the publication's records to ensure that an error is not repeated, and so on. Our experienced Complaints Officers will be able to advise you as to what might be an appropriate way of resolving your complaint. The precise location of a published correction or apology can be negotiated as part of this process. You can see examples of complaints we have resolved through mediation here.

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5. What happens if my complaint can't be resolved?

If your complaint can't be resolved, the Commission will come to a decision under the Code of Practice. If they consider that there is a breach of the Code that remains unremedied, the complaint will be upheld. The PCC will then issue a critical ruling which sets out the background to the case and gives the Commission's ruling on the case. The Commission publishes all of its adjudications here and seeks to publicise them where appropriate.

On the other hand, sometimes the Commission will decide that there has not, in fact, been a breach of the Code or that a publication's offer to resolve the complaint is sufficient in the circumstances. No further action would therefore be necessary. Since there would be no outstanding breach of the Code, the complaint would be recorded as ‘not upheld'. Cases that fall into this category are also published on this website.

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6. What is the PCC's greatest sanction?

The PCC's greatest sanction is issuing a critical adjudication against a newspaper or magazine (see above for a full explanation of this). This is a very strong deterrent which effectively acts as a powerful ‘name and shame' sanction as editors do not like having to publicise their mistakes to their staff, readers and competitors. Under the system of self regulation the publication will then have to publish this text in full on its own pages, with a headline reference to the PCC, and with ‘due prominence'.

If the breach is particularly serious, the Commission can also refer the editor to his or her publisher. As most editors (and, increasingly, many journalists) have adherence to the PCC Code written into his or her employment contract, a serious breach can have severe consequences in terms of their future employment.

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7. The PCC says that critical adjudications must be published with 'due prominence'. What do you mean by this?

There is no black and white definition of this term. However, the requirement in the Editors' Code for due prominence means that the Commission expects them to be published somewhere that is proportionate to the original breach. This common-sense approach does not necessarily mean that something has to be published on the same page as the original article, as there will be a number of factors to consider in each case, including: the gravity of the error; the speed with which it has been addressed by the publication; the proportion of the original story that was in breach of the Code; and whether the newspaper has a designated corrections column etc.

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8. Do publications try to bury your adjudications and apologies?

Working towards ensuring that corrective action is published with due prominence is a key aim for the PCC and is something we have monitored since 2005. In that year, 59% of corrections negotiated by the Commission were published on the same page or further forward than the material under complaint. In 2013, the figure was 60%.

The overall picture is certainly encouraging, with 94% of PCC-negotiated corrections being published within five pages of the original material complained of or in a dedicated corrections column.

As for our rulings, we have upheld secondary complaints in rare cases where adjudications were not originally published with due prominence. See here and here for further details. This has sent a powerful message to the industry and we will continue to push for high standards in this area.

Since January 2010, the prominence of apologies and corrections negotiated by the PCC has had to be agreed with the PCC in advance of publication. Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors' Code of Practice has been amended to make this clear. (This Code change was announced by the Editors' Code of Practice Committee in December 2010. Click here for a press release with the full details).

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9. Why doesn't the PCC impose fines on newspapers and magazines?

In order to do this, the PCC would probably have to have statutory powers of enforcement, which would fundamentally change the nature of the system it oversees. Many of the existing benefits would be removed or reduced - it would become more legalistic, more confrontational and less flexible. In any case, evidence from other countries (for example France) suggests that where fines do not necessarily prevent intrusive articles from appearing. The system of critical adjudications available to the PCC is actually a much more powerful sanction.

A Toluna public opinion survey in 2010 found that 77% of people would prefer a swift apology and no fine (of a newspaper or magazine) rather than a fine after a lengthly legal process, if a publication was found to have breached the Editors' Code of Practice. Feedback received by the PCC from complainants also frequently praises the speed with which the PCC is able to resolve a complaint. This would not be the case is a formal system of financial penalties was involved.

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10. Can anyone complain to the PCC?

Yes. The PCC is specifically designed to help members of the public who find themselves - often through no fault of their own - involved in news stories. Our services are totally free and require no legal representation or specialist knowledge of the media. Although people in the public eye can and do complain to us too, the vast majority (94% in 2010) of complainants are ordinary members of the public.

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11. Do I need a solicitor to help me make a complaint?

No. If you would like help in making a complaint, we will be happy to assist wherever possible - please contact us if you need help. You might also find these guidance notes on various aspects of the Code helpful; and there is a wealth of other information in the Making a Complaint section of this site.

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12. How much will it cost me to complain to the PCC?

Nothing. The PCC's services are all free to use.

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13. Can I get financial compensation through the PCC?

No, not as a general rule. We have no formal powers to negotiate compensation on behalf of complainants and generally speaking if you are seeking money, you will need to take legal advice. However, in rare circumstances, we have negotiated small settlements or donations to charity on behalf of complainants

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14. How long will it take the PCC to deal with my complaint?

Each case is different so it will depend on how complex the issues are. The average time is around 35 working days, but many complaints are resolved much more quickly than that.

In 2013, the average time between a complaint being lodged and it being concluded was - in respect of investigated complaints (that is, those where we wrote to the relevant editor for a response to the case) - 49.3 working days.

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15. You won't accept 'unduly delayed' complaints. What does this mean?

The Commission will not generally accept complaints more than two months after the date of publication of the article (or incident that has given rise to the complaint), except in exceptional circumstances.

Material that is still freely available on a publication's website can generally be complained about, even if the piece was not first published within the previous two months. However, the Commission will consider the length of time that has elapsed between the date of first publication and its receipt of the complaint. A long delay may affect the extent to which the Commission is able to reach a finding and the nature of any action that may be necessary by the publication to remedy any breach of the Code of Practice which is established by the Commission.

The Commission will take into account the reasons why it may not have been possible to make a complaint at the time of the original publication.
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16. What sort of cases can the PCC generally not deal with?

The PCC does not deal with the following issues:
  • Complaints about TV and radio (Ofcom is the regulator for the broadcast industry);
  • Complaints about advertising (The Advertising Standards Authority is the regulator for the advertising industry);
  • Concerns about matters of taste and decency (Why?);
  • Legal or contractual matters that are dealt with more appropriately by the courts (see also 'Legal Remedies and Legal Proceedings' in Procedures for the Consideration of Complaints);
  • Complaints about books.

You might find it helpful to consult the Links section of our website for further guidance on other regulatory and advice bodies.

Please note the Commission will not investigate or consider complaints which it considers to be frivolous or vexatious, or which it believes to be inappropriate to entertain or proceed with for any other reason.

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17. I have a disability which makes it difficult for me to complain. Can the PCC still help me?

If you are deaf or have difficulty hearing you can use our Textphone service (020 7831 0123). If you have trouble reading, we can make the Code of Practice available in large print format and on tape. If you are not able to make your complaint in writing for any reason - and cannot be assisted by a friend or relative - one of our staff can take the details of your concern over the telephone. A transcript of your concerns will then be sent back to you (or your representative) for your signed authorisation. Your complaint will then be taken forward as normal.

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18. I find it difficult to write at length in English. Can I make my complaint in a foreign language?

Unfortunately we are not able to accept complaints made in other languages. You may wish to ask a friend to make the complaint in English on your behalf, which we can accept with your signed authorisation. We do, however, publish information about how to make a complaint in a variety of other languages, available here, which you might find helpful as a first step.

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19. Can I submit my complaint online or does it have to be by post?

Yes you can. To go to our online complaints form please click here. However, we are not able to process the case until we receive a copy of the article you are complaining about, so please make sure you have either included a link to it, or have attached a scanned copy of it. You can send both items via the complaints form, which we have tried to make as short and straightforward as possible. If you only have a hard copy of the article, you can send this in by post with a short covering letter or you can email complaints@pcc.org.uk

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20. Can I contact the PCC out of office hours for help?

You can contact a senior member of PCC staff on an emergency 24 hour basis on 07659 152656. Please note, however, that this number is to be used only in cases of genuine emergency, most likely in cases of media harassment or for urgent pre-publication advice. It should not be used for general complaints enquiries, which can be made online here.

Within office hours (Monday-Friday 9am - 5.30pm), please call our helpline on 0845 600 2757.

Journalists can call our out of hours press office line on 07740 896805.

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21. Can I speak to someone on the phone for advice before submitting my complaint?

Yes, the PCC is always happy to offer advice on a pre-publication basis. We can help to explain any area of the Code of Practice in more detail, and can discuss how best your complaint might be framed under the Code. Our local-rate helpline number is 0845 600 2757.

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22. Can I appeal against a PCC decision?

We are always willing to reconsider a decision if there is any suggestion that we have significantly misunderstood any aspect of the complaint, or if new evidence comes to light.

If you feel there have been failings in the manner in which your complaint was handled by the PCC, you can write to the Independent Reviewer. The Independent Reviewer (previously Charter Commissioner) effectively acts as an Ombudsman, but he can only consider appeals over the handling of the complaint, not the substance of the decision itself. However, in some cases, his recommendations have led to a decision being changed by the Commission, and further remedial action being offered by newspapers. You can see more about his work and the cases he has dealt with in the annual reports.

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23. Do you have any printed information about how to complain?

Yes. We can send you a hard copy of the Code of Practice and our ‘How to complain' leaflet if you would prefer. A number of our guidance notes on various aspects of the Code are also available in hard copy. Please contact us for more details.

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24. The editor of the publication I wish to complain about is a member of the Commission. Will they get to make a decision on my complaint?

No. Editorial members do not consider complaints relating to titles over which they exercise editorial control, or relating to titles with which they have close links (e.g. sister titles). If they report to an Editor-in-Chief, they will also not consider complaints against any titles under that executive's control. You can see from the Register of Interests the publications listed for each editorial member.

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the EDITORS' code of practice
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1. Do you have any advice on specific areas of the Editors' Code of Practice?

Yes. We have published a range of guidance notes for members of the public which are designed to explain various parts of the Code in more detail. Some of the topics include: media harassment, discrimination, handling media attention following a death, and press reporting of children. If you need advice on an issue not covered on anywhere this website, please feel free to contact us.

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2. Can I see what kind of cases the PCC has dealt with already under a particular Clause of the Code?
Yes, very easily. All resolved cases since 1996 can be seen here and all adjudications are here. You can also use the cases search on this website to look for information on particular issues or against particular titles.

From 2009 onwards we have also published summaries of all cases concluded by the Commission in a given month, including those that were found not to breach the Editors' Code. These can be accessed here.

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3. Why does the Code not cover issues of taste and decency?

The terms of the Editors' Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence. The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals - enshrined in the terms of the Code which specifically defines and protects these rights - are not compromised. To come to an inevitably subjective judgement as to whether such material is tasteless or offensive would amount to the Commission acting as a moral arbiter, which can lead to censorship.

The issue of taste is an interesting demonstration of how press regulation differs from the way that other media are regulated. Advertising billboards (and to a lesser extent television programmes, for example), contain information disseminated on a very wide scale, the consumption of which cannot necessarily be controlled. As anyone can look at an advert, it is necessary to ensure that all advertisements do not break basic standards of decency and taste. On the other hand, newspapers are actively purchased and therefore need not be subject to the same restrictions.

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4. Can newspapers report whatever is revealed in a court or inquest, even if it is upsetting?

The PCC recognises that media attention during a court case or inquest can be distressing to the families and friends of those directly involved. Generally speaking, the principle of open justice is such that newspapers and magazines are entitled to report on what is revealed in court, provided that the court has not imposed any reporting restrictions (which will be made clear at the start of a case).

However, there are a number of provisions in the Code which are relevant to reporting in this area, and which editors and journalists must adhere to:

  • Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Code states that publication must be handled sensitively at times of grief and shock. It also makes clear that this ‘should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests'. So, while the Code entitles editors to report any inquest, it also requires that sensitivity at the same time be shown to those in grief. This may mean not making light of the circumstances of the death, or lingering gratuitously on gory details.
  • Clause 7 (Children in sex cases) makes clear the press must not identify children under 16 who are victims or witnesses in cases involving sex offences, even journalists are legally free to do so.

We are in regular contact with Coroners and other court contacts to ensure that the PCC's contact details are made available to anyone who might need them; while details about the PCC's work is included in the Ministry of Justice's ‘Charter for bereaved people who come into contact with a reformed coroner system'.

We have also produced two guidance notes with more information which you might find helpful to read: Court and Inquest Hearings and PCC guidance following a death.

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5. Why does Clause 12 (Discrimination) apply only to named individuals rather than groups of people?

The Editors' Code of Practice, which is written by the Editors' Code of Practice Committee (not the PCC) was specifically designed to protect individuals, and any equivalent protection for groups of people would place serious restrictions on freedom of expression. Clause 12 (Discrimination) is designed to prevent named individuals from being subjected to discriminatory reference, and was changed in 2004 to refer to ‘an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability' in order to make this especially clear.

In some cases, it may actually be more appropriate for you to consider making a complaint about the reporting of groups of people under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code instead. For example, if you feel that an article has made unfair references to a particular group, you may be able to argue that those references are inaccurate or misleading in breach of Clause 1. We can advise you further on this if necessary.

The PCC has also issued a guidance notes to editors about the reporting of Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

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6. Are there specific regulations in the Code that apply to photographs?

Yes. Clause 1 (Accuracy) prohibits the publication of "inaccurate, misleading or distorted material", which includes pictures. The Commission made clear in this adjudication that publications must tell their readers when they have altered photographs in any material way.

Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code relates generally to "respect for private and family life, home, health and correspondence" and states that "it is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent".

Clause 4 (Harassment) states that "journalists and photographers must neither obtain nor seek to obtain information or pictures through intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit".

The Clauses that seek to protect vulnerable groups of people - in particular those relating to children (Clause 6) and hospitals (Clause 8) - include provisions on the actions of photographers as well as reporters, as does Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge).

We are always happy to offer informal, confidential advice if you are not sure about something, so do feel free to contact us for advice.

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7. Can I complain about cartoons?

Yes, provided that the complaint relates to an alleged breach of the Code of Practice, rather than to matters of taste and decency. This adjudication is an example of a complaint about a cartoon that the PCC has ruled on.

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8. Can the PCC change the wording of the Code?

The wording of the Code of Practice is actually the responsibility of the Editors' Code of Practice Committee rather than the PCC itself. So, although the PCC does ratify any changes that are made, it does not itself make decisions about the wording of the Code. The PCC's job, as an independent body, is to oversee and enforce these rules, but it would not be appropriate for it to also have sole responsibility for the wording of the Code. (Having said that, members of the PCC can, like anyone else, make a suggestion for an amendment if they wish to).

In any self regulatory system, it is important that the ‘rules' which bind the industry are written and produced by the industry itself, rather than by any outside body. Such a set up gives the rules much more weight, and means that they carry more moral authority among - in this case - editors and journalists.

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9. Can I make suggestions as to how the Code might be changed?

Yes. Anyone can propose amendments to the Code. It is then for the Editors' Code of Practice Committee, which writes the Code, to decide whether to implement those suggestions when it conducts its annual audit. Any ideas or suggestions on how the Code could usefully be amended can be sent to the Secretary of the Editor's Code Committee, PO Box 235, Stonehouse, GL10 3UF or by email: ianbeales@man.com

The Code is constantly evolving and numerous changes have been made over the years. You can read more about how the Code has developed by clicking here.

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10. How does the PCC define the term 'public interest'?

There is no exhaustive definition of the term ‘public interest'. As set out in the Code, the term includes, but is not confined to:
  • Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety
  • Protecting public health and safety
  • Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

The definition is deliberately loose, in order to allow the PCC to judge each case fully on its merits. The full details of what the Code says about the public interest can be found here.

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11. If the Code of Practice is written by editors and self regulation is funded by newspapers and magazines, how does the PCC remain independent?

The Commission itself, which makes decisions on cases we receive, has 17 members, 10 of whom have no connection to the newspaper and magazine industry. 7 editors also sit on the Commission, but they are in the minority and take no part in any decisions about their own titles. The PCC Chairman is always from a non-industry background, further underpinning the Commission's independence from the industry it is charged with regulating. None of the PCC's staff are journalists or ex-journalists.

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12. Would it be easier if print and broadcast media all came under the same Code and the same authority?

The print media is fundamentally different from other media in the way it is transmitted and received and it is, therefore, vitally important for it to have a separate regulating body equipped to deal with the particular issues relevant to it. Moreover, because of the way in which radio and TV stations are licensed, broadcasters have always had a closer tie to statutory regulation. By contrast, the press - in its role as watchdog of those in power - has been free of governmental restrictions.

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13. Does the PCC cover online publications?

Yes. The PCC will take complaints about the online versions of newspapers and magazines, provided that the publication subscribes to the Code of Practice and the material is something that is covered by the terms of the Code. In December 2009, the Press Standards Board of Finance announced that the PCC's remit would be extended to also include online-only publications (in practice, relating mainly to online magazines). For more information about this, please read this press release which gives more details about this change and sets out the requirements that such a publication would need to meet.

The Commission generally will not consider complaints about the use of social media by subscribing publications or their representatives (i.e. either a journalist's or newspaper or magazine's Twitter or Facebook account), except insofar as such activities are hosted by the website of the publication itself.

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14. Does the PCC deal with complaints about audio-visual material?

Yes, the PCC can certainly deal with complaints about audio-visual (i.e. video) and audio (sound) material that appears on a publication's website. The industry has issued a guidance note on the subject which gives full details of the extension of the PCC's remit in this area.

The same procedures for making a complaint apply as for traditional ‘text' articles. Complaints need to be made within two months of the final publication of the material; they need to be specified under the terms of the Code; and the PCC would need to see a verifiable copy of the item under complaint. (This may be in the form of a transcript). As with all cases, we can help with making complaints relating to audio-visual material.

If you are interested in seeing examples of complaints dealt with by the PCC about audio-visual material, you can use the advanced search facility on this site. Just select the ‘audio visual complaint?' option towards the bottom of the page.

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15. What about user-generated content - does the Code cover this too?

It depends. The test for the PCC is whether the material has been the subject of an editorial decision-making process. Comments posted by users in chatrooms or in the form of unedited, unmoderated blogs would generally fall outside our jurisdiction. Comments that are pre-moderated before being published online would be considered to have gone through a process of editorial control and therefore would generally fall under the terms of the Code. We are happy to advise further on this if you are not sure.

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16. Are 'citizen journalists' covered by the terms of the Code?

Yes, if they submit material to newspapers and magazines that subscribe to the Code. Editors and publishers (who take the ultimate responsibility under the self regulatory system) are required to take care to ensure that the Code is observed not only by editorial staff, but also by external contributors, including non-journalists.

So, for example, this would cover freelancers, specialist contributors, photographers, readers' letters, as well as citizen journalists. An editor intending to publish material from such sources would need to make whatever checks necessary to ensure it complied with the Code.

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17. Does the Code still apply to the reporting of war or are there other regulations placed upon newspapers and magazines at those times?

The Editors' Code applies at all times - including war. However, there may be further obligations placed upon newspapers during a conflict, which would come from the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (DPBAC). The DPBAC oversees a voluntary code which operates between the UK Government departments which have responsibilities for national security and the media. It uses the Defence Advisory (DA)-Notice System as its vehicle. The objective of the DA-Notice System is to prevent inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations and methods, or put at risk the safety of those involved in such operations, or lead to attacks that would damage the critical national infrastructure and/or endanger lives.
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18. Can a newspaper publish articles which are biased in favour of one political party over another?

This is a question that is raised quite often, particularly around election times. Press regulation differs from broadcast regulation in that the Editors' Code of Practice upheld by the PCC does allow newspapers and magazines to be partisan generally, including in their coverage of election-related material. Further, the Commission considers the selection and presentation of material for publication to be a matter of discretion for individual editors - provided, of course, that the Code of Practice has not otherwise been breached.

Please feel free to contact us for more information.

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The Pcc: remit, structure and governance
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1. What does 'self regulation' actually mean and how does it work?

Self regulation refers to a system of regulation which is funded by the industry in question, rather than by external, or government, intervention. The PCC is an independent body which administers the system of self-regulation for the press. It does so primarily by dealing with complaints, framed within the terms of the Editors' Code of Practice, about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines (and their websites, including editorial audio-visual material) and the conduct of journalists. There is more information about how the PCC works, the range of sanctions available to it, and how it works proactively, here.

A number of industry bodies are involved in the self-regulatory system. The Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof) is charged with raising a levy on the newspaper and periodical industries to finance the Press Complaints Commission. The Editors' Code of Practice Committee writes the Code of Practice, and reviews it on an annual basis following public consultation. Both PressBof and the Code Committee operate separately to the PCC and are not involved in its day-to-day running. The PCC operates independently of the industry and has a majority of public members on the board of Commissioners. For more information about the make-up of the Commission, please click here.

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2. How are Commission members appointed?

The positions of public (also known as ‘lay') members are openly advertised in a variety of national and regional publications. The PCC has now instituted a Nominations Committee to make recommendations for the appointments and reappointments of lay Commissioners, and to liaise with PressBof (the funding body for the system) over the appointments and reappointments of editorial Commissioners.

For more information about the Nominations Committee, please click here.

The Chairman of the PCC is appointed by the industry.

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3. What is the background of the full-time PCC staff?

Members of the PCC's small secretariat come from a range of backgrounds. Some staff have worked in a complaints-handling or advisory capacity in other industries.

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4. How is the PCC funded?

Funding for the PCC comes from newspapers and magazines themselves. A levy is raised by the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof) on the newspaper and periodical industries, which in turn is used to fund the PCC. This arrangement ensures that no financial burden is placed on the taxpayer, nor on any complainant who uses the PCC's services, which are all totally free. The PCC receives no government funding.

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5. Why should I use the PCC rather than the courts?

There are considerable advantages to the PCC, in comparison to the courts:
  • It is absolutely free;
  • It is fast: the average case is considered in around 35 working days whereas legal actions can last several years;
  • There is no risk. A legal action against a newspaper is necessarily confrontational but the PCC acts primarily as a conciliation service;
  • It is private. A court action will, in most circumstances, lead to full disclosure in open court of all the details of the case. This can be counter-productive, if the action relates to a privacy issue. The PCC can negotiate private settlements and in some circumstances anonymise published decisions to protect the privacy of complainants;
  • It requires no legal advice, and involves no bureaucracy.
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6. What kind of proactive work do you do? Do you monitor the whole of the UK press?

The PCC actually carries out a considerable range of proactive work:
  • We contact individuals - often through representatives such as police family liaison officers - who are at the centre of large, often tragic news stories and may feel harassed as a result (for more information, have a look at the Dialogue with the Community page on this site);
  • We issue guidance notes to editors on specialist issues such as the reporting of suicide or mental health issues;
  • We arrange public meetings throughout the country for members of the public to find out about our services;
  • We regularly conduct meetings and training sessions with special interest groups to ensure they are up to date with our thinking;
  • We run regular training sessions for both trainee and in-post journalists to ensure they are fully briefed on the requirements of the Code;
  • We raise our own complaints where there is a possibility that three of the ‘victimless' clauses - Clause 13 (Financial Journalism); 15 (Witness payments in criminal trials) and 16 (Payment to criminals) - have been breached. This is because the people involved are unlikely to complain as they will have benefited from a breach of the Code.

In recent times, the PCC has initiated two important complaints of its own volition. The first was against several newspapers for reports of a suicide, under Clause 5 (ii) of the Code. It also chose to conduct an investigation into the payments by newspapers to the parents of Alfie Patten which led to a detailed guidance note being released to the industry.

The PCC is a small organisation and it would be impossible to administer a wider system of initiating our own complaints without monitoring the whole of the British press, which would not be desirable or practical.

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7. Why is there only one PCC office, based in London? Why aren't there offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

Newspapers from all four countries circulate across borders and are often owned by the same companies. Separate PCCs - or even separate offices - would lead to confusion, a duplication of responsibilities as well as considerable additional expense.

We work hard to listen to the views of people from all over the country, and regularly hold Open Days in all regions of the UK. We also offer local-rate telephone numbers for callers from Scotland and Wales; and have published advice about making a complaint in Welsh.

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8. Do PCCs exist in other countries?

Yes they do. In fact, most European countries have a PCC equivalent (though they are often referred to as Press Councils), as do many nations of the Commonwealth. To find out more about the PCC's international work click here. And to find out about the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe, please click here.

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9. Are people still using the PCC for privacy matters rather than going to law?

Yes. The PCC successfully mediated or ruled on 172 cases that related to privacy in 2013.

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10. Why isn't the PCC subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

As we deal with cases relating to individual privacy, it would be inappropriate for us to release personal information under the Freedom of Information Act. We recognise, however, that transparency is important, so we try to make our procedures as transparent as possible. The Governance and Accountability section of this site provides information about how we are funded; lists the Commissioners' register of interests and sets out our rules on conflicts of interest. We also publish monthly summaries of all concluded cases.

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11. How does the PCC work to raise standards aside from dealing with complaints?

We do a huge amount of work to ensure that standards are high right across the industry. Senior PCC representatives run an ongoing programme of training seminars for editors and journalists, using real cases dealt with by the Commission. These are designed to explain various aspects of the Code of Practice in more detail, and can be tailored to suit the requirements of different newsrooms. In addition, we conduct seminars for the vast majority of NCTJ courses in the UK to ensure that new journalists coming into the profession are striving for the highest possible standards. You can see more about this work here. You can read more about standard generally in the 'Standards' section of the Procedures for the Consideration of Complaints.

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12. Does the PCC publish the minutes of Commission meetings?

Yes. From March 2010, these minutes have been made publicly available. You can download the minutes here.

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common scenarios
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1. I'm being harassed by a journalist/photographer but I don't want to speak to them. What should I do?

The first thing to do is to read the guidance note we have produced on media harassment which sets out a number of practical steps you can take. These measures should help to reduce the attention immediately. (NB: It is important to note that under the terms of the Code, it is acceptable for a journalist to ask you for a comment once. However, if you make clear that you do not wish to speak but they persist in contacting you, this may raise a breach of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code).

However, if this is not successful, you should not hesitate to contact us immediately. We will then contact the editor(s) involved and deal with your complaint urgently, sometimes by issuing what is known as a ‘desist notice', requesting that their journalists and / or photographers cease their approaches immediately. This service has a very high success rate. During office hours (Monday-Friday 9am - 5.30pm), please call 020 7831 0022; outside office hours, please call 07659 152656. (It should be stressed, however, that this number is exclusively for emergency situations).

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2. I spoke to a journalist from x publication but now my story has been published elsewhere. I didn't give permission for this - is my story allowed to be sold on in this way?

Generally speaking, there are no restrictions to stop other publications picking up on stories that have first been published elsewhere. Indeed, this is a common feature of how news works, with stories having the potential to become increasingly newsworthy as circumstances change. So, for example, a story told to a local newspaper could well be featured at a later stage in a national newspaper or magazine if the circumstances were such that they were interested in it. Before agreeing to speak to a journalist at length, it is always wise to consider the possible implications of putting information into the public domain in this way. The PCC is happy to give further guidance in this area - contact us for more information.

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3. The headline of an article I have read only gives one side of the story. Surely this is misleading under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code?

Given that headlines are usually only a few words in length, it can be quite challenging for newspapers and magazines to summarise what are often quite detailed or complicated stories. The editor will have to decide how much prominence to give to particular aspects of the story; some parts may be omitted from the headings altogether. The PCC's approach to headlines is that a headline should be read in conjunction with the text of the article before considering whether or not it is misleading.

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4. I posted some photos/other information on my Facebook/Bebo/MySpace/Twitter page, and now that content has been published in a newspaper/magazine. Is this allowed??

The growing trend for individuals to post information on social networking sites poses new challenges for the media as a whole in deciding whether or not they are an acceptable source of material for news stories. For the PCC, complaints in this area would be considered under the terms of the Code of Practice in the normal way - with particular reference to Clause 3 (Privacy).

This recent adjudication sets out the PCC's thinking in this increasingly important area: "The Commission considers that it can be acceptable in some circumstances for the press to publish information taken from such websites, even if the material was originally intended for a small group of acquaintances rather than a mass audience. This is normally, however, when the individual concerned has come to public attention as a result of their own actions, or are otherwise relevant to an incident currently in the news when they may expect to be the subject of some media scrutiny. Additionally, if the images used are freely available (rather than hidden behind strict privacy settings), innocuous and used simply to illustrate what someone looks like it is less likely that publication will amount to a privacy intrusion. Circumventing privacy settings to obtain information will require a public interest justification".

Please feel free to contact us for more information.

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5. Can a newspaper publish a photograph of me to illustrate a story without my consent?

It depends on the circumstances. Questions like this would be considered by the Commission under Clause 3 of the Code (Privacy), which gives strong protection to individuals against intrusive photography, stating: "It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent". Private places are defined as "public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy". The Commission will consider each case on an individual basis, and will look at a number of factors, including: whether the person was out of public view, whether they were engaged in private activity, and whether publication was in the public interest. Innocuous photographs are less likely to raise a breach of the Code.

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6. I spoke to a journalist who said it would be on an 'off the record' basis. What does this actually mean?

‘Off the record' information refers to information given to a journalist on the basis that it is not for publication. Complaints in this area can be quite complicated, so you might wish to read the guidance note we have produced on this topic, which is available here.

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7. I am not the person directly involved in the report I want to complain about. Can the PCC still help?

Wherever possible, the Commission will take forward complaints it receives, including those about factual inaccuracies from concerned readers. However, when the Commission receives a complaint from a member of the public that relates directly to a named or identifiable individual or group, it will - where appropriate - endeavour to contact the relevant person or group to explain its services and to ask whether they wish to complain. Where no complaint is made by the directly affected party (for whatever reason), it may not be appropriate to take forward a complaint from an unrelated individual for some or all of the following reasons:
  • the Commission may not be able to investigate effectively: that is, to understand the full circumstances and determine whether any breach of the Code had occurred;
  • the investigation might do harm: in cases where the subject has co-operated with apparently intrusive coverage, for example, a PCC investigation might cause embarrassment and in itself pose an intrusion (where none had occurred previously); and/or
  • remedial action undertaken by a publication might do harm (for example, by causing upset or posing an intrusion).

In such cases, it is not possible to know what the party concerned would consider to be a suitable resolution without their involvement. Further, the Commission acknowledges that individuals have a right not to complain about matters that concern them.

The Commission may continue with an investigation or consideration of a complaint in such circumstances, either through a complaint from an unrelated individual or on its own behalf, when it believes that such an investigation or consideration is appropriate and in the public interest.

If you wish to raise a complaint, and would like further advice on this subject, please do contact us for advice.

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8. I am worried about an article that I think is going to appear in a newspaper/magazine. Can you stop it from being published?

The Commission has no formal powers to prevent something from being published. However, if you are concerned about something that you think is going to be published, we can still help. We can advise you on how to deal with a newspaper or magazine, and can, in some cases, pass on specific concerns to publications. This helps to ensure that your position has been taken into account and that the publication in question takes an informed view before deciding whether or not to go ahead and publish. In some cases we have dealt with in this way, stories have not been published as a result of our intervention.

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