Press Complaints Commission - annual review - doing good but limited in its powers

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has published its annual review for 2010 and showcased the good work and results it has achieved over the past year. The full report and statistics are available on its dedicated microsite and positioned under the banner 'Perspectives' whereby it seeks to showcase its workings through those who have experienced them (such as BBC presenter Clare Balding).

Headlines it presented are:
•made around 1700 rulings on complaints framed under the Editors' Code of Practice;
•acted to prevent media harassment 100 times;
•made proactive contact with those at the centre of media storms 25 times;
•settled over 540 complaints amicably;
•is an expert at handling privacy cases, issuing over 550 privacy rulings;
•can deal with pre-publication concerns in a way that helps individuals, but without compromising freedom of expression;
•conducted 60 training seminars for journalists, using recent cases to raise standards across the industry.

This is all good stuff and evidences the fact that as a regulator the PCC is proactively seeking to play its part but, not through its fault, it is still limited in its potency as its powers are limited and what it cannot consensually negotiate it has no power to enforce. It can censure through publishing its ruling - which it did in 18 cases in 2010 but it cannot issue orders to prevent publication or hand down fines for having published objectionable material.

The harsh but fair reality is that those wishing to prevent publication or seek redress, the courts are still the forum through which to pursue their rights. That having been said in cases involving the highly topical issue of privacy (in respect of which the PCC mediated or ruled in 557 last year), where there is a need to interpret and balance competing rights, seeking compromise through a brokered deal between PCC and the press may be a more attractive, accessible and less costly option than instigating legal proceedings.

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