Clare Balding - TV Presenter

I complained to the PCC over an offensive and unnecessarily derogatory reference to my sexuality by A.A. Gill in The Sunday Times. I had already written to the editor of The Sunday Times but it was his high-handed response that persuaded me to take further action. It is a big step to take on a major newspaper in such a public way but Scott Langham (PCC Head of Complaints), with whom I dealt directly, seemed very aware of the vulnerability felt by all complainants.

I did not employ a lawyer and am very glad of that, both in terms of expense spared but also it meant I could remain personally involved every step of the way. I found the PCC to be extremely helpful in guiding me through the process and ensuring that I was neither afraid nor confused. I was surprised by the amount of interaction between The Sunday Times lawyer and myself as the ball was batted back and forth but the PCC stepped in and put a stop to it once it was clear that the complaint had legitimacy and I was not going to back down.

The process itself took a long time because many of the panel were away for the month of August but as soon as the decision was made, I was made aware of the outcome shortly before it was made public, so that I had time to take it in. The only disappointing aspect was that while the PCC can ensure that The Sunday Times print the decision in full, they cannot actually make them apologise, which they still haven't.

You can read the Commission's adjudication in this case on our website.

Key success stories

Here are some perspectives of those who have made formal complaints to the PCC in 2010:

"I would also like to say on behalf of the family that the service and response received to our complaint, by [PCC staff] was exemplary and your professional and considerate approach to such a sensitive matter was most appreciated."

"Thanks again, if only all the other complaint bodies I have been dealing with were as speedy and efficient as yourselves! Thanks for resolving this so quickly."

"My mother and I would like to express our utmost gratitude and thank you for your continuous efforts in providing us with a positive outcome regarding this issue, had it not been for your persistent work I doubt very much we'd have got this far so thank you very much."

"I was extremely pleased with your service. Your staff were efficient, helpful and the whole matter dealt with in good time."

"The helpline was a most helpful and well-informed service. Advice was straightforward and clear."

"I was pleased that [the] PCC were so swift and helpful. My complaint was not solved as I would have hoped but the PCC did as much as they could and I am grateful!"

"Obviously those complaining are often hurt or angry - the kind manner of your staff makes the process less stressful and it is appreciated."

"Refreshing to communicate with people clearly intent on being honest and reaching a balanced [resolution] to issues."

The PCC also deals a lot with pre-publication concerns, especially in order to prevent harassment by journalists and broadcasters. This service is entirely confi dential to the complainant, with the purpose of minimising harm in a discreet fashion.

"Many thanks for your help in this matter, I am very pleased about [the newspaper's decision not to publish] and can now give a sigh of relief - for now."

"Thank you for your email, with attachment. I have passed the information on to the family and they appreciate both your concern, and your help in providing the briefi ng note. To date, the family are happy with the sensitive way in which the media have responded to their wishes. Should that position change, or if we require further information, I will contact you."

"I just wanted to drop you a line to say thank you for your help yesterday. The local Police Community Support Officer contacted me earlier to say that as far as the officers could see, no members of the press turned up at the funeral which will have been a big relief for the family."

"Thank you for your help. I feel better now I know I can be left alone to give my husband all the support he deserves to get him out of hospital and home to his family where he belongs."

"I'm very relieved to say that in the story printed on Mon 18th Jan, I was not mentioned by name [as a victim of violent crime]. I haven't seen anything published anywhere else as yet."

The PCC very much sees its role as a public service: one that is available to anyone, at any time, and at no cost. We want people to feel that they can contact us for confi dential advice about any aspect of press reporting. We are always happy to speak to people who might be concerned about a story that has yet to be published, as well as to people who might be concerned about something that has already appeared. PCC staff advocate on behalf of members of the public when dealing with their complaints, aiming to secure redress that is both proportionate and meaningful to the complainant.

Last year, in addition to dealing with over 7,000 formal complaints, we sent out over 100 private advisory messages to newspaper and magazine editors on behalf of someone who was concerned about a story. We also proactively made 25 approaches to individuals following a major incident, who we thought might need to know about how we could help them. This area of work has grown tremendously in the past few years, and is something we will continue to focus our efforts on.

‒ Press Complaints Commission