Press watchdog chief defends Gately ruling

The chairwoman of the press watchdog today hit back at claims that the organisation is "toothless".

Writing in an open letter to accompany the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)'s annual review, Baroness Buscombe spoke of the "difficult but important" case of columnist Jan Moir's comments about Stephen Gately in the Daily Mail.

More than 25,000 complaints, an unprecedented number, were received by the PCC from members of the public including the late Boyzone star's partner Andrew Cowles.

But the PCC ruled that Moir's opinions - headlined: "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death" - had not breached press guidelines.

Gately died of natural causes last October at his holiday home on the island of Majorca.

Baroness Buscombe wrote: "In the end, the commission considered that newspapers had the right to publish opinions that many might find unpalatable and offensive, and that it would not be proportionate, in this case, to rule against the free expression of the columnist's views on a subject that was the focus of intense public attention.

"This was a difficult decision to make but I believe we made the right one."

The Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, which issued a report in February, criticised some of the work of the PCC but recommended beefing up its powers.

It singled out coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance in Portugal in 2007 as an example of the PCC's "lack of teeth".

But Baroness Buscombe said it was a "fallacy" that the PCC is toothless.

She said: "An upheld complaint is a serious outcome for any editor and puts down a marker for future press behaviour...

"The fact that breaches of the code can lead to public criticism means that editors have to consider the key ethical issues before publishing.

"We see this happening every day when calls for advice come in from editors to complaints staff at the PCC.

"We regularly hear about stories that are not published, intrusions that do not take place, thanks to the terms of the code and the decisions of the PCC."

Baroness Buscombe said a free press is a central component of a healthy democracy and "the undesirability of a statutory press regulator is very clear".

She added: "One can't help but notice that the principle of self-regulation has taken a knock recently in reporting of the Parliamentary expenses scandal and the banking crisis.

"It would be wholly wrong, however, to draw lessons from those unfortunate episodes for regulation of the press."

She said self-imposed restraint on the part of editors was the right way to deal with difficult cases, rather than "heavy handed" statutory regulation.

The annual review found that last year more people contacted the PCC to raise concerns than ever before.

Overall, the commission initiated 1,134 investigations in 2009, up from 949 in 2008.

Last year there were 738 complaints which raised a possible breach of the terms of the editors' code of practice, compared with 678 in 2008.

In 2009, 609 of the complaints were amicably settled when the newspaper or magazine took remedial action which satisfied the complainant, compared with 552 complaints resolved in this way in 2008.

In the remaining 129 cases last year, the PCC ruled there had been a breach of the code.

But in 111 of those cases, remedial action was considered sufficient by the commission and public censure was only seen as necessary in 18 cases, compared with 24 in 2008.

The PCC's survey of corrections and apologies it has negotiated in 2009 showed 83.9% appeared either further forward than the offending material, on the same page, or in a dedicated corrections column.

The commission last year received 777 complaints that it could not deal with because they were outside its remit - including ones about TV, advertising and Sudoku puzzles.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Sauce Recruitment: Programme Sales Executive - Independent Distributor

£25000 - £28000 per annum + circa 28K + 20% bonus opportunity: Sauce Recruitme...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Are you an ambitious, money mot...

Guru Careers: Investment Writer / Stock Picker

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A freelance Investment Writer / Stock Picker ...

Guru Careers: PPC Account Executive / Paid Search Executive

£20 - 24K + Benefits: Guru Careers: An enthusiastic PPC Account / Paid Search ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project