Report on the PCC Open Day in Nottingham

In Press review on June 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm

The Press Complaints Commission held an Open Day yesterday in Nottingham. The day is “part of the Commission’s ongoing programme to raise awareness of its role”. I attended the event in order to understand exactly how they worked, how much interest they generated and the sorts of issues that people wanted to discuss.

The event had good billing beforehand with an interview on BBC Nottingham in the morning with PCC chair Baroness Buscombe. She chaired the day and appeared alongside PCC director Tim Toulmin, lay member Vivien Hepworth and Nottingham Evening Post editor Malcolm Pheby.

The Open Day was split into two parts – a surgery for 45 minutes, billed as an opportunity for

“members of the public to have a private, informal chat with a member of PCC staff. We are happy to discuss concerns about individual articles or have a more general discussion about how the complaints process operates.”


I was expecting something like an MPs advice surgery (perhaps because it’s something I’ve got lots of experience of) where various members of PCC staff met with members of the public on a one to one basis to discuss specific concerns about particular newspaper reports. However, the room was already set out for the Q&A session and whilst there were between 10 and 20 people in the room, there were only a couple of people that I could see had particular stories they wanted to talk about.

There was some good literature provided at the back of the room. In addition to the annual reports of the PCC, there was a small A5 booklet ‘How to complain’ which included a helpful flowchart to set out what complainants could expect and some indication of the time it takes to deal with a complaint (the whole process complete in “an average of just thirty five working days”).

Q&A session

The question and answer session was wide ranging, from specific questions about the particular coverage of issues in Nottingham through to concerns about the reporting of inquests and coroners’ courts and wider issues about the privacy of celebrities. The panel answered all the questions in as much depth as possible and allowed questioners to make lots of follow-up points.

I counted 31 people in the audience for the Q&A session, which included some members of the public, communications professionals from the local area, a group of media students and local councillors.

One gentleman clearly disliked self-regulation and asked where the money for self-regulation came from (the press) and what was the highest sanction that had ever been levied on a transgressor of the code. On this latter point, Tim Toulmin explained that the PCC had developed a system for overseeing ex gratia payments which were regularly several thousand pounds, with the highest a £17,000 settlement.

The PCC mounted a robust defence of self-regulation, although Baroness Buscombe doesn’t like the word ‘self’ because it implies self-interest. She prefers to talk of the PCC as a proponent of independent regulation. The panel explained the damage that legislation could do to the freedom of the press, the limits it might pose on investigative journalism and the length of time that complaints would take to solve if lawyers became involved. Baroness Buscombe suggested that health and education policy had suffered because they had become too politicised whereas press self-regulation could remain independent of the government and the industry.


I don’t know if anyone left the session having changed their mind about the PCC but the event was well run and it was an invaluable opportunity for anyone to speak directly to the PCC or their local editor about concerns about the press.

It is never easy to generate a public audience for an event of this nature. I was assured by Vivien Hepworth that they had tried to organise these events in the evening and not necessarily got any more people to attend. But even if the PCC were to hold 3 events like this a year, it would still reach fewer than 100 people – or 1% of the total enquiries it receives each year. Perhaps if the event had been framed around a topical issue it would have generated a more focused conversation which had a more direct impact on the PCC’s thinking, although this may have frustrated those with a specific concern they had to raise.

This is the article in the Nottingham Evening Post with more from the Q&A.

  1. […] A senior judge has expressed concern at the lack of court reporting – just days after PCC chair Baroness Buscombe made similar remarks at the PCC open day. […]

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