PCC urged to conduct deeper complaints investigations

THE panel which oversees the work of the newspaper watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), has expressed concern that the pursuit of an amicable resolution between a complainant and a newspaper can detract from a full investigation of the complaint itself.

The Charter Compliance Panel audits the PCC’s standards of service to complainants.

Although it welcomed the PCC’s success in resolving many complaints, the panel fears that aiming to achieve an amicable resolution might prevent it looking more deeply into complaints.

The panel, in its annual report, says that the commission should review the way it deals with efforts to resolve complaints so that, if there are problems, the complainants can be sure their problems have been fully investigated.

The panel’s two members, Sir Brian Cubbon and Harry Rich, said: “We have seen cases where an exclusive concentration on resolving the complaint can have disadvantages.”

If the dialogue with the newspaper and the complainant concentrated exclusively on resolution, it could appear unnecessary to investigate every aspect of the complaint, the report said.

It added: “But if, in the end, resolution cannot be achieved, the complainant is dissatisfied if all aspects of his complaint appear not to have been investigated.”

Some complainants also dragged out the resolution process so long that any remedy which was eventually agreed, such as publication of a clarification, was out of date when it appeared, the panel said.

The report added: “In appropriate cases it would be right, and arguably better for the commission’s reputation with editors, to draw a line under tedious negotiations and take a decision on the complaint.”

The panel also called on the PCC to make it an objective to reduce the number of complaints being made about possible breaches of the PCC Code of Practice, pointing out that there would usually have been a breach of the code in every resolved complaint.

It said it had now recommended that the report of resolved complaints should take even greater care to identify clearly to editors any errors publications had made.

The PCC should also circulate to editors a focused report highlighting the general lessons to be learned from resolved complaints, the report added, saying: “This would be particularly apt for privacy complaints: in one sample of ten privacy complaints, the breach in four cases concerned the photographing or identification of a child under 16.”

Charter Commissioner, Sir Brian, received 47 complaints last year and found an issue requiring action by the commission in six of them.