chairwoman of the press watchdog today hit back at claims that the
organisation is "toothless".
in an open letter to accompany the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)'s
annual review, Baroness Buscombe spoke of the "difficult but important"
case of columnist Jan Moir's comments about Stephen Gately in the Daily
than 25,000 complaints, an unprecedented number, were received by the
PCC from members of the public including the late Boyzone star's partner
PCC ruled that Moir's opinions - headlined: "Why there was nothing
death" - had not
breached press guidelines.
died of natural causes last October at his holiday home on the island of
Buscombe wrote: "In the end, the commission considered that newspapers
had the right to publish opinions that many might find unpalatable and
offensive, and that it would not be proportionate, in this case, to rule
against the free expression of the columnist's views on a subject that
was the focus of intense public attention.
was a difficult decision to make but I believe we made the right one."
Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry into
press standards, privacy and libel, which issued a report in February,
criticised some of the work of the PCC but recommended beefing up its
singled out coverage of
Portugal in 2007 as an example of the PCC's "lack of teeth".
Baroness Buscombe said it was a "fallacy" that the PCC is toothless.
said: "An upheld complaint is a serious outcome for any editor and puts
down a marker for future press behaviour...
fact that breaches of the code can lead to public criticism means that
editors have to consider the key ethical issues before publishing.
this happening every day when calls for advice come in from editors to
complaints staff at the PCC.
regularly hear about stories that are not published, intrusions that do
not take place, thanks to the terms of the code and the decisions of the
Buscombe said a free press is a central component of a healthy democracy
and "the undesirability of a statutory press regulator is very clear".
added: "One can't help but notice that the principle of self-regulation
has taken a knock recently in reporting of the Parliamentary expenses
scandal and the banking crisis.
would be wholly wrong, however, to draw lessons from those unfortunate
episodes for regulation of the press."
self-imposed restraint on the part of editors was the right way to deal
with difficult cases, rather than "heavy handed" statutory regulation.
annual review found that last year more people contacted the PCC to
raise concerns than ever before.
the commission initiated 1,134 investigations in 2009, up from 949 in
year there were 738 complaints which raised a possible breach of the
terms of the editors' code of practice, compared with 678 in 2008.
609 of the complaints were amicably settled when the newspaper or
magazine took remedial action which satisfied the complainant, compared
with 552 complaints resolved in this way in 2008.
remaining 129 cases last year, the PCC ruled there had been a breach of
111 of those cases, remedial action was considered sufficient by the
commission and public censure was only seen as necessary in 18 cases,
compared with 24 in 2008.
PCC's survey of corrections and apologies it has negotiated in 2009
showed 83.9% appeared either further forward than the offending
material, on the same page, or in a dedicated corrections column.
commission last year received 777 complaints that it could not deal with
because they were outside its remit - including ones about TV,
advertising and Sudoku puzzles.