Doug Wills - Managing Editor, Evening Standard
The Evening Standard is a firm supporter of all the things that the Press Complaints Commission stands for as an independent arbiter ensuring that newspapers are fair and accurate. We do, of course, set out with the intention that all our articles meet these basic criteria expected of all journalists. We may, though, slip from the high pedestal of good judgement for any number of reasons, from the pressure of time to inaccurate information supplied to us. It is also possible that we fail to meet the levels of good taste that a reader may expect of us. It is when the Evening Standard, or indeed any newspaper, disagrees with its readers that there must be an adjudicator who is respected by both parties. The Press Complaints Commission is asked to pronounce with the wisdom of Solomon on such occasions: in our experience it nearly always achieves this. Even if we disagree with its judgement, we abide by it. This is the only way that the Commission can act with authority. It is to the credit of the Commission that readers who complain have shown similar respect in accepting its verdict.
It is crucial that the PCC maintains a healthy distance from the newspaper industry. Our primary aim is, after all, to obtain redress for individuals who have been wronged by the press. However, in order that we can achieve that end, it is necessary for the Commission to have a good working relationship with editors, managing editors and their representatives. This element of co-operation - based on mutual trust between the PCC, complainants and journalists - is absolutely central to the success of the system of regulation overseen by the Commission and explains why we are able to settle amicably the vast majority of complaints that we judge to have merit (544 in 2010).
The notion that editors can trust the PCC to be impartial and consistent is borne out by the frequency with which the Commission's staff are contacted by representatives of newspapers and magazines for pre-publication advice. We will not tell an editor that they can or cannot publish a story, but we will give as much guidance as possible about whether material is likely to raise issues of concern under the Code - and we will point to past cases that can guide their decision-making.
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Elisabeth Ribbans - Managing Editor, The Guardian
The Guardian has continued to work well with the PCC on casework and training during a busy 2010. Over this period we received 24 complaints requiring response - a steadily increasing caseload that may be explained by the PCC's awareness-raising activity, our own increased editorial output, and certainly the reach, longevity and interactivity of online journalism. We are now seeing complaints concerning both our own journalism and comments from readers posted beneath blogs, and in some cases regarding articles published many months or years previously. Around 30% of complaints last year came from third parties not directly affected by the story in question (mostly in respect of international coverage), and this may be an area for further thought if a relatively small PCC and hard-pressed editors are to respond most effectively to serious cases and/or those from individuals and organisations featured in our reporting.
In addition to complaints activity, more than 100 Guardian and Observer journalists have benefi ted from training sessions presented in our offices by a senior member of the PCC directorate, while managing editors have participated in industry seminars organised by the PCC to explore important topics such as mental health reporting, and evolving areas around privacy, data protection and social media content.
The Guardian believes in self-regulation and supports the PCC, but we believe it can be effective only if it commands the respect of journalists and the trust of the public. Over the past year it is no secret that we have taken issue with some aspects of the work of the PCC. The Guardian has applied pressure - directly and through recommendations to the PCC governance review under Vivien Hepworth - aimed at encouraging a Commission that has greater authority, transparency and investigative muscle. These interventions have been the work of a critical friend. We were pleased that the review made a number of proposals last summer that should help create a more proactive and accountable PCC, and we welcome the assurance of director Stephen Abell, given in September 2010, that the Commission will re-examine evidence of phone hacking once parliamentary and police investigations are complete.
There are myriad challenges in the global digitalera, as we know not only from our interaction with the PCC but from the experience of the Guardian and Observer readers' editor offices, which offer a direct route (in addition to the numerous opportunities for engagement across our sites) for thousands of readers seeking corrections, clarifications or other means of response each year. Through the knowledge we have built up here, and through continuing constructive dialogue with the PCC, we look forward to playing a full role in the drive to improve standards, ethics and accountability in journalism in the years to come.
Donald Martin - Editor, The Sunday Post & The Weekly News; Editor-in-Chief, DC Thomson Newspapers
Receiving a PCC complaint always sends a slight shiver down my spine. Often much more so than a lawyer's letter.
To have a complaint upheld for failing to abide by the Code would be a personal failure for myself as an editor and one I certainly don't want to share with my readers through a published adjudication.
And that personal motivation is one of the key strengths of the PCC. It puts pressure on newspapers to go that extra mile to resolve a complaint, often pragmatically conceding ground and taking a more conciliatory tone than we would in a legal dispute.
The push for a satisfactory resolution is handled with great skill by the PCC's staff. There is open dialogue and a real understanding and appreciation of how we operate as newspapers and the difficulties we often face.
More importantly, the staff are on hand with clear guidance and advice before publication. That not only avoids complaints arising but establishes a positive working relationship and mutual trust. I welcome that proactive approach and have benefi ted many times from it over the years.
In my experience, the service the PCC provides is fair, free and impartial and crucially of equal value to both complainants and editors. It ensures we, as journalists, aspire to the highest standards and, on the rare occasion we fall below, we work even harder to make amends.
Lisa Burrow - Editor, Closer Magazine
As Closer combines celebrity and real-life content, every aspect of the PCC Code affects us. But rather than limiting us, it encourages us to raise our standards of responsibility and accuracy.
When it comes to real life, the guidelines provide a framework of common sense and respectful behaviour.
In the celebrity arena the area of privacy is notoriously tricky to navigate. Celebs rely on our titles for self-promotion but can cite privacy issues when less fl attering stories circulate. On the rare occasions that Closer receives a complaint, the PCC maintains neutrality whilst attempting to broker resolutions that ensure the often precarious - but symbiotic - working relationship between agents and publications can continue.
However there can be frustrations; for example, there are those who use the threat of the PCC to publicly complain, occasionally leaking to other media outlets the intention to complain to the Commission. This behaviour risks undermining the complaints process in my view, because publications may become wary that the PCC is being used as a PR tool rather than as a mediator or adjudicator.
Naturally we co-operate fully with the Commission to resolve any complaints but we also work closely on prevention. Our journalists understand the letter and spirit of the Code and seminars presented by PCC representatives have brought it to life with practicalexamples and Q&A sessions. These reinforce the human face of the PCC and facilitate an ongoing dialogue whereby journalists can call for pre-publication advice and guidance.
The self-regulatory nature of the PCC ensures editors are mindful of their actions at all times and offers an element of transparency. Opting out exposes the title to public mistrust thus undermining its credibility - the very thing we rely on to succeed.
Nick Turner - Digital Strategy Manager, CN Group
Journalism is accessed through an ever-increasing number of platforms including print, websites, apps, blogs and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
And whether it's a video on a newspaper's website or a reporter's Tweets from a council meeting it is important that we uphold the same journalistic standards that we held so dear when the only way we published anything was through our printing presses.
So it has been pleasing to see the Press Complaints Commission engaged in a consultation about the best way to uphold standards while respecting the increased freedom of expression gained through these digital platforms.
We had a lively discussion on this topic at the Digitaleditors' Network when Will Gore (PCC Public Affairs Director) joined us to talk about the PCC's work. What was clear from that meeting and the PCC's other work in this area is the need to ensure that wherever our journalism appears we must demonstrate our commitment to accuracy, fairness and accountability.
Georgina Harvey - President of the Newspaper Society
A free press is recognised as the cornerstone of any democracy. Britain's newspapers are rightly subject to the general laws of the land, including libel and contempt of court. But the UK government has always resisted any move towards state regulation of the press.
The Press Complaints Commission shows that self-regulation is the most effective way to uphold strict editorial standards and responsible reporting, providing an independent means for the public to resolve complaints when they arise.
Regional and local newspapers are committed to the self-regulatory system under the PCC and agree to be bound by its adjudications. The Editors' Code of Practice is written into the employment contracts of the vast majority of the journalists of Britain's 1,200 regional newspapers. Our editors are in no doubt that they are held to account for any breach of that Code.
The PCC works because it is free, accessible and effective for all members of the public. That is possible because the newspaper and magazine industry is signed up to the system, provides the funding for its work, but respects its independence and authority.
Editors of regional and local newspapers work hard to ensure the highest standards of fair, ethical and accurate reporting. They continually strive to balance the public's right to know against individual rights to privacy. They may not always get it right.
But they are acutely aware that if they do get it wrong and a complaint against them is upheld by the PCC, this is a serious matter which exposes them to public criticism. Every adjudication must be published prominently and in full and it remains on that newspaper's record. As a result, editors' adherence to the Code and the industry's unequivocal support for the PCC means a more responsible press, as well as a free press.
Alison Hastings - PCC Journalism Trainer, Former Editor, Evening Chronicle (Newcastle)
Getting a franked letter from the PCC in your editor's in-tray does not make for a great start to the day. Sometimes the contents do not come as a surprise as the complainant has already been in touch. Or the letter can reveal a problem you didn't even know existed.
Whatever the eventual outcome, initially it will mean time and investigation. Along the way you could well feel confi dent about your actions - or frustrated that one of your staff may have let you down. And the best way to ensure that you, your publication and your journalists do not end up with an upheld complaint is to ensure you are all regularly trained.
With budgets in the media tighter than they have ever been, training can easily end up as discretionary spend. So the fact the PCC offers free, tailored sessions across all departments means they are always snapped up. Who's going to look a gift horse in the mouth?
For the past nine years, since ileft the PCC as an editorial Commissioner, I have personally carried out nearly 300 training sessions on its behalf for the industry. These range from national newspaper department heads to university undergraduates on a media or journalism course. Both I and staff from the PCC also regularly do practical sessions in the regional press all over the UK.
The newspaper and magazine sessions are an opportunity for us to highlight important decisions plus changes to the Code and their implications so they understand how some of these can set firm precedents that will require changes in future practice.
With university under- and post-grads it helps focus their minds to know that for many it will be written into their contracts of employment that they must abide by the Code - and that they can lose those hard-fought jobs if they don't. It's also reassuring for them to learn that practices, which may have been much more accepted in my day as a young reporter in the mid-80s, are outlawed by the Code.
With all our training, we focus on making it targeted and practical - often getting the journalists themselves to decide on past cases. The debate surrounding their decisions is where the learning lies, and helps bring to life a 16-clause Code which is stuck up on the wall of a newsroom.
The PCC believes that its commitment to training the industry is a vital part of its remit and responsibilities. So it was reassuring to discover in the PCC's latest focus group research with members of the public how important they too feel this proactive work is. It gives the public confi dence that the industry takes its obligations to maintain the highest professional standards seriously - by devoting both time and money to learning and improving. It does not mean that journalists always get things right, but we help them understand their obligations under the Code - and ultimately help that in-tray look less daunting.
The Press Complaints Commission is not only a complaints body. It has a wider role in upholding and setting standards, as well as in ensuring that those standards are known and understood by people working in the newspaper and magazine industry. Its role in training student journalists and updating journalists who are already in post is therefore vital.
In 2010, PCC staff and representatives undertook update seminars for 60 newspapers and magazines around the UK, reaching hundreds of reporters, photographers and editorialexecutives. We highlighted key rulings and principles, explained the evolution of the PCC and sought to underline the importance of balancing journalistic freedom with ethical responsibility. Our seminars are becoming a regular part of a journalist's ongoing professional development.
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