Simon Sapper - Assistant Secretary, Communication Workers' Union and PCC Public Commission member
The starting point for my involvement with the PCC is that self-regulation of content is, for me, the only really viable model for a free press, albeit within legal parameters on discrimination, incitement and libel. That's not to say current laws and regulation on media ownership are satisfactory. I don't think they are - but that is a different debate to the one on how content should be regulated.
The Commission's staff work with fantastic professionalism and efficiency. So ignorance-based criticism of the Secretariat is particularly unwarranted. Too many people in glass houses too willing to throw stones, in my view.
The process of making decisions is of course crucial. Each Commissioner - the 10 public ones and seven from the industry - receive a weekly bundle of cases with commentary by the Secretariat. These form the basis for vigorous debate - first in correspondence and then around the table, face-to-face. Commissioners see every case. Debates can be intense. But that is right - these are not insignificant issues that are under consideration. The key issue is not simply what is ethically right or wrong, but whether or not the Code has been breached.
I believe that an outside observer witnessing these debates would not be able to say which Commissioners were public and which were from the industry.
Could things be better? Of course. We are implementing a wide-ranging Governance Review into how we work, and I think the Code Committee (an entirely separate body which agrees the Code we apply) should be more responsive to views from outside the industry. I'd also love to see a toughening up of the Code clauses on discrimination. It's an ongoing challenge to fi nd a way to make that possible without drifting into censorship.
The PCC operates completely independently of the newspaper industry when it administers the Editors' Code of Practice. All self-regulatory systems have some industry involvement, and this is largely of benefi t to complainants: editors have made a public commitment to the system, and accept its jurisdiction in advance.
The PCC relies on, and expects, the co-operation of newspapers and magazines to achieve its purpose. Editors come to the PCC for advice, and act voluntarily when asked to stop contacting those unwilling to speak to them. They also support the ongoing system of training for journalists run by the PCC.
But the industry must be in the minority in terms of the decision-making function of the Commission. Of the 17 members of the PCC, only seven are serving editors or editorial directors. The majority of 10 public members is the largest of any similar press council in Europe. The PCC Chairman always comes from a non-newspaper or magazine background.
‒ Press Complaints Commission
Charlotte Dewar - PCC Complaints Officer
I joined the PCC as a Complaints Officer in early 2010. What struck me first was the contrast between the Commission's public profile, which is inevitably bound up in wider controversies about the British press, and the day-to-day experience of working here, which - while it often carries implications for industry practices - is constantly focused on the people who come to us for help, whether they are complainants or editors worried about running afoul of the Editors' Code.
Of course, not all of these concerns can be amicably resolved; in some cases, the Commission cannot establish a breach of the Code in material which has been the subject of a complaint. Where these decisions relate to the publication of views which the complainant fi nds upsetting or offensive, there is a danger that this may be interpreted as a sign that Commissioners and staff have failed to understand the complaint or are indifferent to the complainant's distress. In such cases, the knowledge that the Commission has upheld the principle of freedom of expression by making a judgement based on the terms of the Code can seem like cold comfort.
But freedom of expression is at the core of what we do, and it is not only an abstract idea - it has human consequences. I was reminded of this after sending to a group of complainants, all of whom live in Russia or have close ties to the country, a decision that the Commission had not found an outstanding breach of the Code in their case. Their representative responded: "We are disappointed with this decision. At the same time, we have been impressed by the efficiency and fairness of the PCC proceedings in this case. This experience has reinforced our belief in the principle of self-regulation of the media, which we hope will prevail in future Russia like it has prevailed in Britain. We wish the PCC every success in resisting pressure to replace the PCC with state regulation and preserving the important democratic principle of self-regulation."