The Press Complaints Commission prides itself on its ability to give a voice to the member of the public who believes that have suffered as a result of press behaviour. If you spend time with a member of the PCC’s secretariat it is very clear that it gives the commission its driving force and greatest satisfaction. The PCC’s website says that 95% of its cases are from “ordinary members of the public” (as of 2009).
This is important because many parts of the code are balanced between the rights of the individual, and a public interest judgement. The newspapers that fund the PCC are also driven by a desire to remain accountable to their readers and their political legitimacy comes, at least in part, from their role in articulating popular opinion.
It was strange, therefore, to see a string of cases on the PCC’s website about celebrities and public figures. Recent cases include Clare Balding, Heather Mills, Kym Marsh and the European Commission.
The PCC cannot just represent the “ordinary member of the public”. A significant proportion of national newspaper articles are about public figures – particularly celebrities and politicians. And if the PCC resolves cases without a call on lawyers it saves newspapers money and protects freedom of speech.
Nevertheless, with a reasonably small budget the PCC needs to show that it is working on behalf of the public rather than the wealthy – and with times tight at newspaper groups, this is ever more important. So the PCC’s figure of 95% of cases from ordinary members of the public seems a sensible guide.
However, an analysis by PCC Watch suggests that the PCC has been dealing with complaints from the general public in just 70% of cases in recent months. Of the 29 adjudicated cases in 2010, nine complaints were brought by public figures. And of the 42 resolved cases in October 2010, 12 were brought by public figures – about 30% of all cases. It is not always clear who is a public figure, so we’ve published our classification online.
Perhaps over the course of the year, the PCC will once again get close to its 95% guide. But it highlights, once again, the need for the PCC to have a clear mission statement and a set of key performance indicators which are applied consistently and reported on in the same format each year.