How far are the articles of the Press Complaints Commission's code of practice backed up by the law and therefore enforceable in the courts?

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How far are the articles of the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice backed up by the law and therefore enforceable in the courts?

The Press Complaints Commission is an independent body, which deals with complaints from the general public about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines.

In 2000, 2,225 complaints were investigated by the PCC, of which 6 out of 10 complaints were about the accuracy in reporting and about one in eight were related to invasion of privacy.

All these complaints are investigated under the Editors’ Code of Practice, which binds all national and regional newspapers and magazines.  The Code, drawn up by editors themselves and ratified by the Press Complaints Commission, covers the ways in which news is gathered and reported, also providing special protection for vulnerable groups such as children and hospital patients.

The Code of Practice is not a legal document and can be amended at any time, if necessary, through parliamentary comment, suggestions from the PCC, editors and members of the public and changes in technology.  Since the original code was published in 1991 there has been nearly 30 changes to it.

The introduction to the Code of Practice states that:

‘All members of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards. This code sets the benchmarks for those standards.  It both protects the rights of the individual and upholds the public’s right to know.  The code is the cornerstone of the system of self-regulation to which the industry has made a binding commitment.  Editors and publishers must ensure that the code is observed rigorously not only by their staff but by anyone who contributes to their publication.  Any publication which is criticised by the PCC must print the adjudication in full and with due prominence.’ (McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists)

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The Editorial Code of Practice contains 16 clauses:

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked with a * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

The public interest includes:

  • Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour, protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being mislead by some statement or action of an individual or organisation.
  • In any case where the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require a full explanation by the editor saying how the public was served.
  • In cases involving children, editors ...

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