|The Facts behind the Figures
Perhaps because so many different outcomes are possible if you make a complaint to the PCC, statistical information about the PCC's activities has caused some confusion - despite our attempts to make it as transparent as possible. In particular, the recent report from the Media Standards Trust pressure group managed to get very muddled about the figures. Here is a straightforward explanation about how our statistics break down.
During 2008, the PCC received 4,698 written complaints (slightly up on the 4,340 in 2007). However, this included several hundred that did not fall within the Commission's remit, for example because they were complaints about adverts or TV programmes which would be dealt with by the ASA or Ofcom. Others just misunderstood the Commission's job entirely: one woman wrote to complain that her iron was broken (press complaints of a different sort); somebody else was distressed that they were unable to complete a ‘word search' in a puzzle magazine.
Well over 100 further complaints related to matters of taste and decency (such as the publication of swear words and pictures of bare breasts), which the Code of Practice does not cover. Just 13 were considered to be unduly delayed, and 82 were about stories about named individuals but made by ‘third parties'.
Several hundred complaints to us were in fact just hastily-written e-mails which made general criticisms of newspapers (such as "I think the Daily Beast is awful: what are you going to do about it?") which, despite our efforts to encourage a complaint under the Code, did not come to anything. This is one consequence of e-mail communication being so easy.
We are also seeing a growing number of duplicated complaints - sometimes encouraged by internet campaigns. For instance, we received 584 identical complaints last year about a Matthew Parris comment piece in the Times, suggesting that cyclists should be decapitated. As they were all the same and related to just one piece, it was only necessary to make one ruling - but we had to include 584 complaints in the figure for the number of complaints we received throughout the year.
This left 1,420 cases that fell under the Code of Practice for consideration, of which:
Particular confusion seems to arise when it comes to the term ‘adjudication', which is a ruling that is made public either because it has been upheld or because it raise an important point of principle. But the Commission rules on many hundreds more complaints than that, as this article demonstrates.