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PCC denies 'toothless' response to Gately case

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The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has argued its handling of a record number of complaints after the death of singer Stephen Gately was not "toothless".

More than 25,000 complaints were received by the regulatory body after Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir wrote an article about the Boyzone star on the eve of his funeral, with the piece originally titled "Why there was nothing natural about the death of Stephen Gately".

The PCC's website crashed due to the volume of complaints as an online furore erupted in the wake of Moir's article last October but the commission ruled that Moir's article regarding Gately - who died of natural causes at his holiday home in Majorca last year - did not breach press guidelines.

PCC chair Baroness Buscombe said: "In the end, the commission considered that newspapers had the right to publish opinions that many might find unpalatable and offensive, and that it would not be proportionate, in this case, to rule against the free expression of the columnist's views on a subject that was the focus of intense public attention.

"This was a difficult decision to make but I believe we made the right one."

A report published in February by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee criticised some of the PCC's responses to contentious media issues, alleging a "lack of teeth" by the commission regarding press coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in 2007.

Baroness Buscombe, however, said it was a "fallacy" to call the PCC "toothless", adding: "An upheld complaint is a serious outcome for any editor and puts down a marker for future press behaviour.

"The fact that breaches of the code can lead to public criticism means that editors have to consider the key ethical issues before publishing.

"We see this happening every day when calls for advice come in from editors to complaints staff at the PCC.

"We regularly hear about stories that are not published, intrusions that do not take place, thanks to the terms of the code and the decisions of the PCC."

The PCC initiated 1,134 investigations in 2009, up from 949 the previous year, while among those cases, the number of possible breaches of editorial codes of practice rose from 678 in 2008 to 738 last year.
© Adfero Ltd
19 May 2010 17:04 GMT

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