Chairman's perspective

2010 itself contained clear evidence of the PCC looking to better itself for the future

I'm delighted to give my perspective alongside all of those who have contributed to this publication. It is always a useful exercise to look at yourself as others do, and at the PCC we take very seriously the constructive commentary of those we work with and for.

I am particularly pleased that people and organisations who have actually used our public service, like the Samaritans and Cumbria Police, have contributed to this year's Review. They have direct experience of how the PCC can help, and the service that we can offer. It is striking - but no more than should be expected - how those who experience the PCC often come away pleased with how they have been treated. I hope that Clare Balding speaks for other complainants, when she speaks of PCC staff being "extremely helpful" to those who feel vulnerable in the face of press attention.

I can assure you that the perspectives are the genuine opinions of a range of contributors such as MPs, lawyers, academics, PR consultants, complainants, charities and newspaper and magazine industry fi gures. It shows the wide variety of different people we serve and the place of the PCC in British society today. The point of the PCC is that we seek to engage with everyone in the UK to help hold editors to account for their actions, and require that editors also hold themselves to account. I would particularly urge you to read the historical perspective by Professor Robert Pinker, which gives a fascinating context to where we are now and shows how we got here.

I hope these perspectives will give a fair reflection of the work of the PCC and how it is regarded. We will take on board praise and criticism. We always do. One of the great strengths of the PCC is its willingness to adapt and evolve. As I enter my third year as Chairman, I want to make special mention of the dedication and application of the PCC staff, who focus all their efforts upon providing a valuable public service. iregularly meet many people who have benefi ted from the PCC's work and actions and I am moved by some of the cases of vulnerable people who can face harassment, intrusion and discrimination through no fault of their own.

One of my continuing frustrations is the difficulty we have in convincing some people that the PCC's enforcement of the Editors' Code of Practice works, particularly in relation to privacy. It is a straightforward problem: success must often be measured by the invisible. A lot of the effective work performed by the PCC is below the surface. It is reflected in the articles that do not appear, the journalists that do not turn up on someone's doorstep and the stories that are not pursued. Many people contact us to use our anti-harassment mechanism whereby messages to editors to call off their photographers and reporters are passed on. It has a near 100% success rate. Amid all the talk of super-injunctions and the peril they pose to free expression, we should remember that the PCC operates a pre-publication service that can work with editors to prevent intrusion before it happens. We are more active than judges in defending people's privacy, and do so while balancing the protection of the individual with the right of free speech.

We are heartened by regular feedback that shows that the work we do is valuable and valued

We are heartened by regular feedback that shows that the work we do is valuable and valued. We know from recent polling that there is large awareness among the public (81%) of the PCC and that of those who have an opinion the vast majority (75%) regard the PCC as effective or very effective. I hope we can increase understanding of the PCC to match the impressive level of awareness and I hope the PCC's recent advertising campaign willenable more people to use and benefit from our service.

In that broad context, let me take the chance to draw your attention to the remainder of our Annual Review for 2010. Elsewhere on this website, you can see more of the key statistics for the year, the important rulings that we made and a calendar of PCC activity. Please take the time to have a look if you can. Our aim is to reveal all the wide-ranging work we do, for which we perhaps are given too scant credit by some.

That said, there is much more we can do, and there are difficult issues that the PCC must face with vigour. While 2010 was a successful year - in my view - in terms of the decisions we reached and the people we helped, it would be wrong to downplay the challenges ahead.

I hope we can increase understanding of the PCC to match the impressive level of awareness

First, phone hacking. This is a subject which remains a major concern for me and the Commission, in terms of what it says about journalistic ethics in this country. I condemn unequivocally what took place at the News of the World. It is right that the PCC must play a part in ensuring that the practice of illegal and intrusive interception of phone messages is, and remains, stamped out.

Of course, it is also right that the police - who have reopened their investigation - take the lead in determining the further extent of any criminality. The PCC must not prejudice that investigation in any way. Nor can we interfere with ongoing legal actions, which are based on information to which we are not currently privy.

However, we can take steps that I believe are necessary and in the public interest: we will draw together the information that comes out of the legal process, so that we have a clear picture of what has happened; we will ask the News of the World, and any other relevant newspaper, to give a full and public account of itself in light of that information; we will review how the PCC has previously addressed this entire issue, accept what we could have done better and ensure our own game is raised; and - most importantly - proactively work across the whole industry to ensure that systems are in place to assure improved future practice.

It was with these tasks in mind that the PCC set up a Phone Hacking Review Committee at the beginning of 2011. It comprises two recently appointed lay Commissioners, both of whom are experts in relevant legal fi elds: Ian Walden (Professor of Information and Communications Law, Queen Mary, University of London) and Julie Spence (former Chief Constable, Cambridgeshire Police). It also has one editorial Commissioner in John McLellan, the editor of The Scotsman. It will make recommendations to the Commission, which will be published.

The second challenge is perhaps primarily for the industry itself. It is to ensure that the PCC remains supported across the board in the coming year. The PCC requires and relies upon (and receives) co-operation from publishers and editors in the work it does. That must continue. It is regrettable that there is currently a funding dispute between Northern & Shell and PressBof (which is the funding body for the PCC). I call upon both sides to resolve this as soon as possible. The system of self-regulation in this country is too important to be affected by quibbles over money.

2010 itself contained clear evidence of the PCC looking to better itself for the future: the independent Governance Review that reported in July. That Review, intelligently led by Vivien Hepworth, was the first such in the history of the PCC and represented an invaluable opportunity to test the structures and processes that have evolved since the organisation's establishment in 1991. It heard a very wide range of opinions and produced recommendations to give the PCC greater independence and effectiveness. We are now in the process of implementing those recommendations and the result should be a strengthened, more independent and effective PCC.

There can be no doubt that such qualities are necessary in today's media world. The PCC, I believe, has firmly established itself as the appropriate form of regulation for fast-moving online newspaper and magazine content. For example, we have developed a clear set of precedents to help guide ethical practice in the use of material taken from social networking sites. We train journalists and editors, so that they navigate the difficult question of what privacy actually means in a digital age. I believe we can also play an important role in promoting discourse among the public about how best they can protect their own privacy in the online environment, particularly in the context of what is published on sites like Facebook or Twitter. To help us in this area and others like it, the Commission has set up a permanent Online Working Group, which will continually examine how the PCC and the Editors' Code of Practice can remain relevant online.

Early this year, we advertised for the appointment of three new public Commissioners. We received nearly 3,000 applications for the positions. Such a response is testament to both the importance of the work the PCC does, and - I hope - our reputation across the UK. As we renew the membership of the Commission, so we will be reminded that we must always refresh and improve how we work. 2011 is already proving to be a challenging year; we must make sure we meet the challenges, and more. We must continue to ensure that the PCC, and the system of self-regulation, remains robust and effective, and is seen to be so.

Baroness Buscombe
Press Complaints Commission