Informal (non-legislative) protection against media intrusion

Protection from media intrusion into privacy

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  • Created on: 08-04-13 16:30

Report of the Committee on Privacy and related mat

In 1990, Sir David Calcutt produced the Report of the Committee on Privacy and related matters

·         It investigated the effectiveness of the Press Council

·         The Council was comprised of members of the press; essentially, the press was self-regulated.

·         In the report, it was described as a ‘toothless body’ whose decisions were treated with contempt by the press.

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The Press Complaints Commission

The report led to the introduction of the Press Complaints Commission, or PCC:

·         Had new codes of practice: which include a guideline requiring consent for invasions of privacy; though there is a public interest exemption.

  •         Was a smaller body
  •         Had a bigger budget
  •         Still self-regulation
  •         And served to handle public complaints on invasions of privacy
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Sexual Offences (Ammendment) Act 1992

Sexual Offences (Ammendment) Act 1992: Another recommendation of Calcutt’s was that the anonymity of **** victims to be extended for all sexual assaults: leading to this amendment.


The Committee’s recommendations were to be last chance for the press.  If, after 18 months, there was no improvement, than Parliament would intervene with statutory control.

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Review of Press Self-Regulation 1993

In 1992, Sir David Calcutt asked to investigate again; produced the review, which focused on PCC.  Findings:

  •         The PCC was inadequate in preventing media intrusion, as proven in the Royal family phone tapping case
  •         The Code of Practice was altered in favour of the press
  •       The PCC was not fulfilling its role in complaint handling; many private individuals were unhappy with the investigation of their case.


Sir David found that the PCC were not ‘an effective regulator of the press’.  The Commission is a body set up, financed and run by the press, operating on a code of practice devised and over favourable to the press.  Essentially, the press are controlling the press.

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Review of Press Self-Regulation 1993

Sir David’s new recommendations:

  •          Further use of data protection legislation
  •          Gaps in legislation should be closed to prevent interception of communication
  •          A new statutory body should be set up to control the press with new Codes of Practice.  The body should have the power to initiate investigations, to require the printing of apologies and impose fines.
  •         Thought should be given to a tort of privacy
  • All of the recommendations were ignored by the government.
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Current Issues with the PCC

A governance review of the PCC was published in July 2010.  It urged the PCC to implement a number of reforms to its structure and organisation to improve its service, profile and credibility.  The focus in the report is on the PCC’s need to promote itself so that the public are more aware of it, as well as the need to make it clear where the PCC will be pro-active.  The chair of the PCC at the time of the report, Buscombe, wanted publication of the PCC’s success in dealing with complaints, as well as all newspaper editors to sit on the PCC with the introduction of a rota like jury service.  Also increase in funding and lay commissioners to combat bias.

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Criticisms on PCC

By Jonathan Coad, involved governance review:

1.      The code of practice was written exclusively by editors

2.      The editors decide complaints and they are biased.  Upholding complaints limits their own ability to publish stories.

3.      Complaints hearings are secret.  No one can attend and no recording or transcript is made.

4.      The PCC are not subject to judicial review, appeal or any applications under the Freedom of Information Act.

5.      The sanction of forcing publications of apologies is uneffective; the apology only needs to be 5% of the column inches of the original article.

6.      The PCC allows for the complaints process to stretch over a period of months, so corrections are not published promptly; as they are obliged to do.

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Recent Issues

June 2010: Labour Peer Lord Puttnam: PCC to be given a year and scrapped if there was no sign of improvement.

2007: News of the World Royal editor and a private investigator are jailed for illegal phone tapping.

The PCC further investigates allegations of widespread phonetapping, and reports that there is ‘no evidence that phone hacking was still going on’.

 In 2011: New evidence emerges of phone hacking at News of the World.

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Recent Issues

August 2011: Baroness Buscombe announces she will step down.

David Cameron called the PCC ‘ineffective and lacking in rigour’.  Ed Milliband called it a ‘toothless poodle’. 

Phone hacking scandal led to further calls for an independent complaints body and the Leveson inquiry.

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PCC: Ineffective

·         Punishments are non-existent

  •          Biased towards itself
  •          Governed by itself
  •          Complaints are handled by editors who do not want to restrict themselves in printing stories

Had Calcutt’s recommendations not been ignored by the government, it is likely that the Leveson inquiry would not have happened.

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The Leveson Inquiry

Lord Justice Leveson was asked to investigate and report following the Phone Hacking scandal.  There were many celebrity victims, but it was the Millie Dowler case that sparked public outroar and forced the Leveson Inquiry.  The aim of the inquiry was to investigate press conduct and make recommendations on reform.  Part 1 of the inquiry was published 29th November 2012, and states ‘In practice, the PCC has proved itself to be aligned with the interests of the press’.  Leveson’s recommendation on the future of press regulation is that the press should remain self-regulated, stating ‘what is needed is a genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation’.  Lord Leveson also recommended legislation that will set up a body to ensure the independence and effectiveness of any future press self-regulation.

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