PCC Statistics Explained
A Glossary of PCC terms
This document is intended to provide a comprehensive explanation of complaints terminology used by the PCC. We have tried to make it as straightforward as possible, but if any of it is not clear, please do contact us. Please note that there is a separate glossary for the monthly complaints summaries, more information about which can be found here. Statistics can be difficult to understand, and we are always happy to explain our work to anyone who is interested.
If you intend to publish anything based on these figures, you may find it helpful to speak to a member of PCC staff. Please call on 020 7831 0022 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article, published in the PCC ’s February 2009 newsletter, also seeks to explain the PCC ’s facts and figures.
This website publishes details of resolved and adjudicated complaints dealt with by the PCC since 1996. This information can be found here. The website also provides an cases search function, which will enable you to search PCC complaints by clause number of the Code, publication name or keyword.
Information about complaints before 1996 is only available in hard copy – please contact Tonia Milton for further details: email@example.com.
The following general points about methodology should be borne in mind when interpreting statistical information:
- There is often some confusion about the PCC ’s use of the term ‘ruling’. While all PCC adjudications can correctly be described as rulings, not all PCC rulings are necessarily adjudications. For a fuller explanation of the term ‘ruling’, see below.
- Prior to January 2004, the figure for ‘complaints not formalised’ was included in the ‘resolved complaints’ section. To ensure that a more accurate picture of our complaints is given, the methodology was changed in January 2004. From this time onwards, these two figures are given separately.
- From June 2005 until the end of 2009, PCC complaints reports were published biannually rather than quarterly. Therefore, statistics were recorded on a six-monthly, rather than three-monthly basis.
- From January 2010 complaints statistics have been presented in monthly summaries in order to provide as much information as possible and help clarify the statistical information provided.
2. Explanation of terms
Total of all complaints
This is the global figure for all complaints received in writing by the PCC in a given timeframe. It is a useful starting point for understanding the PCC ’s workload, but it is important not to place too much emphasis on this figure, for two main reasons:
- Many of these complaints are ones we will not be able to deal with. Some will fall outside our remit (see below); while others will not be taken forward by the complainant after their initial contact with the PCC ;
- The global figure includes duplicated complaints (i.e. where a multitude of people complain to the PCC about one particular article). However, where a number of complaints are the same the Commission will only make one ruling.
This is a much more useful figure on which to focus. It comprises all cases on which the Commission is able to rule. It includes:
- Complaints resolved through mediation (where there has been a probable breach of the Code);
- Complaints which engaged the Code but where the Commission considered there was no prima facie breach;
- Complaints where the Code was breached but the newspaper took or offered sufficient remedial action (even though that action was not satisfactory to the complainant); complaints which were upheld because a breach of the Code was not, or could not, be remedied.
In 2012 the PCC issued 1,937 rulings.
Complaints made under the Code
The Commission can elect formally to adjudicate on any unresolved complaint. This means that the Commission issues a public ruling on the substance of the complaint. Adjudications fall into three categories:
- Upheld. A complaint will be upheld if the Commission finds an unremedied breach of the Code. The publication will then have to publish the Commission’s ruling in full on its pages, with a headline reference to the PCC and with due prominence.
- Sufficient remedial action. In some instances where the Commission rules that there has been an initial breach of the Code but that the offer of remedial action made by the editor was sufficient to remedy the breach, the PCC will make a public ruling.
- Not upheld. If the Commission finds no outstanding breach of the Code, the complaint will be recorded as not upheld. A complaint may also be not upheld if the Commission concludes that the publication has taken sufficient action to remedy a breach of the Code.
Sufficient remedial action
These are complaints which the PCC resolves to the satisfaction of the complainant. An example of an outcome in a resolved complaint might be: the publication of a correction or an apology; a follow-up piece or letter from the complainant; a private letter of apology from the editor; an undertaking as to future conduct by the newspaper; or the annotation of the publication's records to ensure that the error is not repeated. Summaries of these complaints are published on the PCC website here.
These are complaints where the Commission rule that the Code had been breached and that the publication had offered or taken sufficient action to remedy the breach under the terms of the Code, even though an agreed settlement between the complainant and the publication could not be reached.
Not pursued by complainant
These are cases where complainants have chosen (for any number of reasons) at some stage of the complaint, not to take it any further.
No case under the Code
This figure relates to complaints where the Commission judges that there has been no breach of the Code but where there is no need for a public ruling. The complainant and the editor of the publication in question will receive a full explanation of the Commission’s decision, but the substance of the complaint is not published on the website.
Complaints not investigated under the Code
The PCC can only take complaints which engage one or more of the Clauses of the Editors' Code of Practice, so complaints in this category are those which fall outside the PCC's remit. Such cases might be related to matters of taste or decency, concern advertising (as opposed to editorial material) or TV, or be about a contractual matter. Wherever possible, the PCC will try to assist members of the public by giving the contact details of the appropriate organisation or body with which they can raise their concerns.
Disallowed on grounds of unjustified delay
The Commission will not generally accept complaints more than two months after the date of publication of the article (or incident that has given rise to the complaint), except in exceptional circumstances.
Material that is still freely available on a publication's website can generally be complained about, even if the piece was not first published within the previous two months. However, the Commission will consider the length of time that has elapsed between the date of first publication and its receipt of the complaint. A long delay may affect the extent to which the Commission is able to reach a finding and the nature of any action that may be necessary by the publication to remedy any breach of the Code of Practice which is established by the Commission.
The Commission will take into account the reasons why it may not have been possible to make a complaint at the time of the original publication.
"Third party" complaints: who can complain to the PCC
Wherever possible, the Commission will take forward complaints it receives, including those about factual inaccuracies from concerned readers. However, when the Commission receives a complaint from a member of the public that relates directly to a named or identifiable individual or group, it will - where appropriate - endeavour to contact the relevant person or group to explain its services and to ask whether they wish to complain. Where no complaint is made by the directly affected party (for whatever reason), it may not be appropriate to take forward a complaint from an unrelated individual for some or all of the following reasons:
- the Commission may not be able to investigate effectively: that is, to understand the full circumstances and determine whether any breach of the Code had occurred;
- the investigation might do harm: in cases where the subject has co-operated with apparently intrusive coverage, for example, a PCC investigation might cause embarrassment and in itself pose an intrusion (where none had occurred previously); and/or
- remedial action undertaken by a publication might do harm (for example, by causing upset or posing an intrusion).
In such cases, it is not possible to know what the party concerned would consider to be a suitable resolution without their involvement. Further, the Commission acknowledges that individuals have a right not to complain about matters that concern them.
The Commission may continue with an investigation or consideration of a complaint in such circumstances, either through a complaint from an unrelated individual or on its own behalf, when it believes that such an investigation or consideration is appropriate and in the public interest.
Complaints not formalised
This figure refers to cases where complainants have made a very general criticism of a newspaper or article but – despite the PCC ’s attempts to engage them further and to establish how the individual’s concern might be framed under the Code – have opted not to pursue the matter past this introductory stage.