PCC report
The Press Complaints Commission is "more active than judges" in defending people's privacy, the commission's chairman Baroness Buscombe said today in the organisation's annual report.

Her comments were featured in the 'Perspectives' section of the report, which also includes the views of a number of different groups, from supporters and critics to complainants and professional representatives of the industry.

Defending criticisms of the PCC's enforcement of the Editors Code of Conduct she stressed that a lot of its work is carried out "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 per cent 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."

According to the report the PCC made around 1,700 rulings on complaints framed under the Editors' Code of Practice in 2010 and issued more than 550 privacy rulings.

Outlining the issues ahead for the commission and the news industry, Buscombe highlighted phone-hacking as "a major concern".

"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."

She added that the commission faced a second challenge by way of support in the coming year, reflected in light of the withdrawal of Northern & Shell from self-regulation announced publicly in January.

"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."

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