The PCC Is Ineffective

March 26, 2009 at 6:22 pm (Bad Science, Media) (, , , , , , , )

Having read the recent post by JQH – in which he reports on his complaint to the PCC regarding the Daily Fail’s misleading and inaccurate reporting of the HVP vaccine – and the associated comment from Andy Lewis pointing out that the PCC’s editors’ code committee is chaired by Paul Dacre (editor of the Daily Fail), I thought I’d write about the PCC. Happily for me, AlanH of the Think Humanism forum has posted some interesting information about the PCC in this thread.

While the head of the PCC, Sir Christopher Meyer thinks that the idea that the PCC is too weak is “bollocks”, the figures AlanH provides do seem to suggest that the PCC is unlikely to give a ruling on your complaint – and even less likely to uphold it. Here’s what Sir Christopher Meyer has to say on the matter:

He said PCC rulings were feared by newspaper editors, adding: “Nothing makes editors scream louder than when they know a complaint is going to go to a formal adjudication. I tell you, this really concentrates the mind – to be named and shamed in their own newspaper. Most editors will stay in the privacy of their own boudoir, they’d prefer a system of fines.” Meyer, who had a long diplomatic career and was John Major’s press secretary from 1994 to 1996, said self-regulation – though not perfect – was preferable to state control of newspapers. “I came into the job with a number of prejudices – my first was that any form of state regulation of editorial content of newspapers and magazines was objectionable,” he said.

And here’s the rather revealing set of figures from the Think Humanism forum:

over the last 10 years, the PCC has received 28,227 complaints from the public. Of these, the PCC refused to consider ruling on 25,457 of these, rejecting just over 90% of them on technical grounds without them ever investigating the substance of the complaint.

Of the ones that were rejected, nearly 1,000 were rejected because they were not made quickly enough, nearly 2,000 were rejected because they were made by third parties and nearly 7,000 were rejected because they didn’t fit within the PCC’s code. Many others were rejected because they were not ‘formalised’ by the complainants.

Only 2,770 were accepted for investigation (less than 10% of those made). Most of these (2,322) were miraculously resolved by the newspapers (by issuing an apology or clarification) when the PCC accepted the complaint. This leaves just 448, 1.6% of the total that the PCC were forced to adjudicate on.

It goes on. The PCC rejected over half (251) of these, leaving just 197 of the 28,227 complaints made that were upheld by the PCC — that’s 0.69% of the total.

The self-confessedly prejudiced Sir Christopher Meyer may like to reflect on whether it is really better to have regulation by the state or self-regulation by the newspaper industry*. The PCC have upheld just 0.69% of complaints over a ten-year period. Given the misleading, distorted and inaccurate bilge that passes for news reporting in most papers these days, I find it astonishing that only 197 complaints were upheld in a ten-year period. The Daily Mail is one of the worst offenders and writes inaccurate, misleading pieces on a seemingly daily basis. That their editor is chairman of the PCC editors’ code committee is cause for concern in itself. That the PCC chairman believes his body are an effective regulator is even more worrying in light of the figures provided by AlanH.

*I would have thought that a third possible option would be an independent regulator – perhaps made up of representatives from (a) the press, (b) the public and (c) any other relevant groups. Perhaps this would be a way of ensuring that the press were properly regulated but that the government didn’t have undue influence over the newspapers?

EDIT 27.03.2009: The PCC have some recent figures on their website – – and they don’t look to be much different from those quoted above. I took a look at the most recent 6-month period and found this:

    April-Sep 2008 PCC Complaints: Number of complaints in each category, and percentage of total complaints.

  • Resolved or sufficient action offered to resolve 346 18.74%
  • Not pursued by complainant 101 5.47%
  • Adjudicated 16 0.87%
    Upheld 9 (0.49%)
    Sufficient action offered 1 (0.05%)
    Not upheld 6 (0.33%)
  • No case under the Code 339 18.36%Complaints not investigated under the Code
  • Outside remit 337 18.26%
  • Disallowed on ground of unjustified delay 3 0.16%
  • Third party complaints 19 1.03%
  • Complaints not formalised 685 37.11%TOTAL COMPLAINTS: 1846

Adjudicated complaints make up 0.87% of the total and are further broken down into three categories – “upheld”, “sufficient action offered”, “and not upheld”. The percentage of total complaints that were upheld was 0.49% for the period April-September 2008. The percentages have been added, but the raw figures are as per the PCC webpage:


  1. Zeno said,

    I took the figures straight from Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth news. He has a website (, but it seems to be down at the moment. I can highly recommend his book, which can be bought through his website.

  2. jdc325 said,

    Thanks Zeno – I’ve now added to my post the figures for the most recent 6-month period given on the PCC website. They don’t look radically different to the figures you gave on Think Humanism.

  3. 3-in-1 PCC Complaint « jdc325’s Weblog said,

    […] *I think that the PCC is ineffective and have called for reform. My letters to the editors of the Mail and Telegraph are here. My post about the red meat/blindness story is here and my post on the God spot story is here. JQH recently wrote to the Daily Mail and the PCC regarding the Fail’s abysmal coverage of the HPV vaccine. Also: I have added a new blogroll section for media blogs / resources (near the bottom of the sidebar to the right of this post). […]

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