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Interview with Stephen Abell, PCC Director

What's your vision for the PCC?

I think that everyone who works at the PCC sees it as a public service: we are here to answer the concerns of members of the public, and give voice to their complaint. We want to make this as clear as possible to people who feel aggrieved about the actions of the press, so that they come to us for help. So I would like to see us build greater awareness of the public service that the PCC provides, greater understanding of the work the PCC does in maintaining the fine balance between freedom of expression and defined boundaries of fundamental media standards, and a greater recognition of the benefits that the self-regulatory system bring to society.

So how will it evolve?

The system is such that the more people use the PCC, the better it works. We try to raise standards in the press by holding editors to account for their actions, and then using our rulings to act as guidelines for future behaviour. As we receive more complaints (because our service is better known and easier to use), so we will be more active in dealing with standards issues.

Will the PCC get busier?

The overwhelming trend over the last 5 years is upward, so I am sure we will get busier (and we are happy for this to happen). This means we have to be transparent about what cases we can deal with, and what we can't. We have been guilty in the past of not analysing our statistics enough, or presenting them clearly.

Online convergence - opportunity or threat?

It certainly cannot be thought of as a threat; it is an inevitable technological progression. We believe that the philosophy of self-regulation, which underpins the PCC, fits the online world very neatly. The proliferation of information online militates against statutory regulation, as the content is so diffuse that it cannot be easily constrained. Only self-restraint, self-imposed standards, can really work online. The PCC requires exactly that from newspapers and magazines and their websites.

How do you see the self-regulatory system interacting with media law?

We have always acted in a complementary fashion with the law, and this is not readily understood. We offer the option of a cost - and risk-free service to all-comers. This is taken up - in the area of privacy especially - on an increasing basis, including by those who have easy access to expensive lawyers. But there will always be libel and privacy litigation, and the PCC system slots alongside that.

How can the PCC gets its message across?

The first point is that our message should be clear and consistent to begin with. We are in the final stages of the Governance Review, which is examining all of the PCC's structures and systems, and one of the results should be more clarity about what we do and how we do it. Starting from that basis, we need to then be open about our actions, explain our decisions, and be accountable to the public who use us.

Who does the PCC need to engage with?

We need to engage with everyone who gets us access to potential complainants: family liaison officers, coroners, PR agents, MPs, charities. With a new parliament, we have a great opportunity to make our pitch to unjaded MPs: we are here to help you help your constituents; come to us with any of their concerns.

 
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