Sue Roberts, from the Press Complaints Commission, spoke to first year journalism students about how to stay clear of trouble in the world of the press.
Sue began with giving a brief but clear explanation of what the PCC are there to do: to oversee complaints regarding the press when the public feel mistreated. She described how the commission was an independent organisation that are “reactive rather than proactive”, meaning they react on the complaints of others.
In the 1950’s a press council was erected, but was not respected or active in taking on complaints. It took until the 90’s for the PCC to set up, which is funded by the press itself.
The membership of the organisation is split 60% to 40%, with the minority percentage being editors of papers and the larger remainder being independent. “It’s the same principle as a University council having students on the board” she explained.
The PCC, along with the press themselves, have also fallen victim to the explosion of the internet. Ten years ago they made the decision to not only regulate print press but also audio visual media from the net. However, as the internet is such a huge network, she added “There are far too many online versions to verify”.
The criteria the PCC follow when investigating complaints is known as “The Editors’ Code of Practice”, and is revised every year. This can be broken into four sections: accuracy, privacy, news gathering methods and protecting the vulnerable.
The PCC do not write the code, rather a group of national and local independent editors take it on.
Interestingly enough Sue quizzed the audience and asked what percentage of complaints related to privacy, to which most listeners agreed on over 75%. In fact, just less than 25% was the correct answer; with accuracy the major cause of complaints.
“Compliance to the code is written into many journalist contracts” Sue said, reinforcing the respect that editors have for the code and the PCC. As it only takes an average 17 days to process a complaint, this shows the editors that the PCC are a efficient and effective board, but as they are self regulated, also fair and unbiased.
The PCC website is: www.ppc.org.uk