Introduction from the Director

We achieve a considerable body of work, and want that to be out in the open for everyone to see.

Stephen Abell - Director

This section of the report is designed to show a bit more about what the PCC actually does: the working parts of the system. I have been at the PCC for several years, only becoming Director at the end of 2009, and so I have seen (and performed) most of the jobs within the organisation. This means that I have had the chance to see how committed people are to making the PCC a success.

I think it is important for our report to convey this. The view of PCC staff is that we are offering a public service and – to the best of our ability – seeking to raise standards in the press by ensuring that all individuals can hold editors to account for their actions. We want to be open about how we do it.

So, there is a piece here about the “behind-the-scenes” work of the Commission: preventing harassment, giving pre-publication advice and proactively offering help. There is also a feature on the complaints department, which should show what complaints officers get up to all day (and sometimes all night).

The report covers the educative side of the PCC: we train journalists across the country, seeking to shape future decisions that will be taken in the newsroom. And we are involved in educating those on the other end of complaints. We want to help people who represent those who appear in the press to know more about us, and to use us with greater success.

Of course, all of the decisions that are made by the organisation come from the Commission itself, a body of 17 members. Crucial in the system is the fact that 10 are members of the public, compared to only 7 editors. This means that editorial expertise (and peer judgement) is balanced – and indeed outweighed – by the independent assessment of those unconnected to the industry. We have asked one of our lay members, Ian Nichol, to explain a bit more about what they do.

While I believe the PCC is occasionally subject to unfair criticism, it is of course right to accept that we can perform better as an institution. In the past, people may not have recognised that this is our attitude: the accusation of complacency is, after all, easy to make and impossible to refute. But the PCC is not a complacent body. In 2009, Peta Buscombe instituted a Governance Review to examine how the PCC works, which includes public consultation. We also have an independent figure to examine our complaints handling and the report of the Charter Commissioner, Sir Mike Willcocks, is included within this review for the first time.

The PCC is subject to other external scrutiny. In 2009, the CMS Select Committee conducted a wide-ranging investigation into press standards (including phone message hacking). We welcome the attention the Select Committee has brought to the PCC, and will use their comments (and others) as an impetus for the future.

In the end, I hope that this part of the report shows a little bit about the practicalities of the Press Complaints Commission. There is a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr that I will rip out of context as a concluding point: “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience”. It is only by doing (by making decisions, by settling complaints, by setting standards) that any form of regulation can work. The PCC is, in the end, a pragmatic institution, experienced in the day-to-day activity of addressing concerns about the newspaper and magazine industry. We achieve a considerable body of work, and want that to be out in the open for everyone to see.

Stephen Abell
Stephen Abell

2010 Press Complaints Commission