Director's introduction

I occasionally meet people who are cynical about the work of the PCC (and I am aware of the fine definition set out in Yes Minister that a cynic is merely what an idealist calls a realist). But generally their cynicism comes from ignorance about the function of the organisation, and all of the work that it does. Our Annual Review is a vigorous attempt to dispel that ignorance.

In 2010, the PCC issued around 1,700 rulings on complaints framed under the Editors' Code of Practice; it acted to prevent media harassment 100 times; it made proactive contact with those at the centre of media storms 25 times; it settled over 540 complaints amicably. It made some precedent-setting rulings that will impact on editorial decisions in newsrooms, and therefore the lives of people who might be featured in the press in the future. It hosted 60 seminars to reinforce those rulings, and to educate the industry and so raise standards. It had a meaningful impact on thousands of people across the UK.

But don't just take our word for it. Instead of simply listing what took place in 2010 (although we do that as well), we have put together a document in which those who have actually come into contact with the PCC offer their perspective on what we do. This includes those who represent the most vulnerable in society (an MP like Madeleine Moon, who has worked tirelessly for her Bridgend constituents; the Samaritans; Broadmoor Hospital) and those who represent the most privileged (celebrity PRs and solicitors). The PCC is a democratic system, designed to help people of whatever claim to fame in exactly the same way. For the record, over 90% of our complainants are not public fi gures at all.

We also asked for the thoughts of the industry itself. The PCC is the independent arm of the self-regulatory system for the press: the industry offers funding (something 9/10 members of the public endorse), an agreed Code of Practice and a commitment to co-operate; the PCC in turn offers independent enforcement and a continued drive to raise standards. Senior editorial figures from across the industry testify to their relationship with the PCC and its effect on newsrooms.

The idea behind this document is to see ourselves as others see us. An independent assessment is never a bad thing. That was what prompted the Governance Review (the fi rst in the PCC's history), which reported in the middle of 2010 after a tremendous amount of hard work. Its Chairman has written a short perspective, but a true measure of its effectiveness should be the fact that almost everything it has recommended has now been - or is being - put into action. The PCC has, of course, its own internal review system in the form of what is now called the Independent Reviewer, who (like us) had a busy year. His report can be seen here.

Such self-scrutiny (which should always stop short of navel-gazing) enables us, I hope, to draw some conclusions about the PCC. It has clear reasons for existence: to remedy the mistakes of the press; to offer support and protection to the public; and to work hard to raise industry standards. It has a proper philosophical underpinning: to preserve appropriate freedom of expression (threatened occasionally by the fulminations of the courts, or the rumblings of parliament), but not at a cost to the individual. And it has never been more active (even proactive) in what it does.

Of course, the PCC faces legitimate criticism, which we must use as impetus for continual improvement. We must do more, for example, to deal with the issue of phone hacking (and have set up an expert review panel to look at this). There are ongoing challenges for journalistic ethics raised by the internet and ever-developing technology. More people should know about us and we should be more accessible to them.

But we should fight the cynical approach to the PCC. As an organisation, we strive to combine idealism (we believe in what we are doing) and realism (we know how hard we have to work to do it, and that the system will never be perfect). We have tried in this report to offer a detailed explanation of how we do what we do.

Stephen Abell