People can have full confidence in the Press Complaints Commission: that’s the message from the oft-maligned watchdog’s annual report.
Criticism – including accusations of negligence over its handling of the phone hacking scandal – has been fierce but its chair, Baroness Buscombe, was equally strident in putting forward the organisation’s plus points.
And as the superinjunction row rumbles on, Buscombe claimed the PCC does more to protect privacy than the courts.
She said in the report: “We are heartened by regular feedback that shows that the work we do is valuable and valued. 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 will enable more people to use and benefit from our service.
“Amid all the talk of superinjunctions and the peril they pose to freedom of expression, we should remember that … we are more active than judges in defending people’s privacy, and so while balancing the protection of the individual with the right of free speech.”
However, discontent has grown with the PCC itself. Complaints about its handling of cases reached 63, compared to 35 the previous year, including 15 that sought clarification of the watchdog’s decision.
According to the report, the PCC issued more than 100 warnings over harassment last year, which was up from 69 in 2009.
The overall number of complaints made to the watchdog in 2010 was “well over” 7,000, down from 39,000, an anomaly fuelled by Jan Moir’s controversial Daily Mail article about the death of Stephen Gately. Complaints “with merit” grew slightly from 738 to 750. Of those, 544 were “amicably settled”, down from 609.
Alleged inaccuracy in reports made up 87 per cent of the complaints and 24 per cent were due to invasions of privacy by the press.
National newspapers bore the brunt of over half the complaints, with 34 per cent aimed at regional title, nine per cent at the Scottish press, five per cent at magazines, and about two per cent Northern Irish papers.
The annual report included numerous testimonies from people who have successfully challenged the press through the PCC.