Jan Moir, Twitter and the PCC
Jan Moir's recent article in the Daily Mail generated over 25,000 complaints - more than the PCC had received in total over the last five years. This was at least partly inspired by individuals, including Stephen Fry, highlighting the story via Twitter and encouraging people to express their concerns to the Commission.
The incident has raised several questions for the PCC. At the most practical level, how does a small organisation (with 14 members of staff) actually process so many complaints? More fundamentally, should volume alone have an impact on the way in which concerns are judged?
In terms of pure process, a number of changes have been made to the Commission's website and databases so that our systems can better cope with a spike in complaint emails. Similarly, measures have been put in place so that responses can more easily be made to very large number of individuals who have all complained about the same thing.
As for whether a high number of complaints will make the PCC more likely to adjudicate against an article, the answer must be that it will not. The question for the Commission is not: how many people have taken a dislike to an article, or been offended by it? The issue at stake is whether or not the Code of Practice has been breached - and that is unaffected by the number of individuals who complain. The Commission must also continue to have regard to whether complainants are directly affected by the matters under complaint. In this case, none of the original 25,000 complaints were from Stephen Gately's family or close friends.
That is not to say that members of the public should feel discouraged in making their complaints - far from it. The PCC spends considerable time engaging with those who may need to use its services, ensuring that people know how to make complaints effectively. The Commission's literature explaining how complaints can be made and how they will be judged was rewritten this year to clarify the parameters within which it operates.On the back of the original complaints it received, the PCC launched an investigation into the concerns that had been raised about the general accuracy of the Jan Moir article, where input from the directly affected parties was not required. Last week, however, the Commission received a complaint from Andrew Cowles, Stephen Gateley's partner. Because Mr Cowles is a directly affected party to the article, the Commission will also now examine the additional complaints he has raised in connection to Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code.