Monday, August 13, 2012

The Press Complaints Commission…every unhappy customer’s best friend’s new best friend

THE BODY of a kayaker is washed up on a remote stretch of shoreline and our intrepid reporter doesn’t think twice before heading down there.
A quick whizz around some contacts in the area and she’s established a name and an address. But after chats with some neighbours, two knocks at the door and a polite note left she’s no nearer any personal details, but does elicit a response from the local police.
“It is extremely inconsiderate and unprofessional of you to approach the home address within a matter of a few hours of being given the devastating news,” writes a Police Constable within an hour or so of our visit.
“She [the dead man’s partner] had wished to deal with this in her own time as she was coming to terms with the shock herself, but is now having to deal with the intrusion from you and concerned neighbours. She is incredibly upset and angry and is seriously considering complaining to the Press Complaints Commission about your behaviour.”
Ahh…the Press Complaints Commission, every unhappy customer’s new best friend. Or at least every unhappy customer’s best friend’s new best friend. Whether it’s police office themselves, Family Liaison Officers (also police), solicitors, councillors, counsellors or ‘family friends’ suddenly everyone wants to involve the PCC.
I blame that nice Mr Leveson. Until he started turning his interminable handle no-one knew much about or cared for the unloved PCC. Now The Right Honourable Lord Justice has indicated that it’s on its last legs everyone wants to bang on the door.
The last people to try and get our knuckles rapped ended up with the door slammed in their face or, more prosaically: “After assessment the Commission has decided that no matters have been raised which show a breach of the Code.”
This one concerned us reporting the funeral of a ‘popular’ local lad who was killed when he came off his motorbike. We discreetly kept our distance and didn’t intrude but did go about our business looking and listening. Our story was a fair reflection of what happened, but some family members took exception to us being there at all.

The adjudication read: “The Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had paid appropriate regard to the feelings of the family. There was no suggestion that the journalist present at the church had initiated any interaction with mourners or disrupted proceedings in any way.”
Well, thank you very much for deciding that we could do our job. But my fear is that there are lots of young reporters and some inexperienced editors who will be put off by the easy recourse to go to the PCC. Rebutting the complaints is a time-consuming business and, although not really necessary, some editors call in expensive legal help.
Just as we were doing our job with the poor kayaker. Turns out he was struck by lightning. And who was the first to tell us? The very woman who originally wanted to complain, but has since become our best friend and wanted us to be the first to know the result of the post-mortem.