Self Regulation of the Press Industry

Self Regulation

Self regulation means that the regulation of a particular industry is partaken by a body appointed by that industry and not by a government appointed agency.

Press Standards Board of Finance (Peasbof)

The Press Standards Board of Finance is the regulatory body for the entire of the UK written press, funds the Press Complaints Commission and has the following bodies under its regulatory umbrella:

  • Newspaper Publishers Association
  • Newspaper Society
  • Periodical Publishers Association
  • Scottish Newspapers Association
  • Scottish Daily Newspaper Society


The Press Standards Body of Finance operates a system of self regulation and is charged with the following duties:

  • Raising a levy on the newspaper and periodical industries in order to finance the Press Complaints Commission 
  • Co-ordinate and promote the system of self regulation within the industry
  • Enable the bodies under its system of self regulation to liaise appropriately with the Press Complaints Commission

The Code Committee is part of the Press Standards Body of Finance and is charged with monitoring compliance with and undertaking reviews of the established Code of Practice.

The Press Complaints Commission

There are seventeen member of the Press Complaints Commission in total with a majority of them having no connection with the press thus to ensure that the Press Complaints Commission remains an independent regulatory body.

There are three classes of Members within the Press Complaints Commission which are as follows:

  • The Chairman
  • The Public / Lay Members
  • The Press / Industry Members

The Chairman

The Chairman must be independent from the industry meaning that he or she must not be engaged  or connected with or interested in the publishing of newspapers, magazines or periodicals other than in their capacity as Chairman.

The Public Members

The public members are all appointed by an independent Appointments Commission. They too must be independent from the industry meaning that he or she must not be engaged or connected with or interested in the publishing of newspapers, magazines or periodicals other than in their capacity as a member of the Commission.

The Industry Members

The industry members are also appointed by an independent Appointments Commission. They are the only members of the Commission who are not independent from the industry but they must be a person who is experienced at a senior editorial level in the press.

Functions of the Press Complaints Commission

The Press Complaints Commission deals with complaints regarding the written press by taking the following action:

  • All complaints will be judged against the Code of Practice
  • If the code has not been breached on the face of it then the Commission will take the matter no further
  • The Commission usually only deals with complaints that have been made within one month of the publication
  • If a letter was written to the editor of the publication concerning the matter then the Commission will deal with complaints within one month of the editors reply
  • If there is litigation currently running concerned with the piece or about to commence then the Commission will not get involved. Once the litigation has concluded the Commission may deem it necessary to get involved.

Can I complain directly to the Press Complaints Commission?

The Commission only usually deals with complaints from parties who have directly been affected by the matters about which they are complaining. They will also only hear your complaint once it has been judged against the Code of Practice so strongly recommend that before you submit a complaint you consult the Code of Practice thoroughly.

If you feel that this is the case the following documents will need to be included:

  • A copy of the completed article and publication date
  • Name of the publication concerned
  • Brief summary of the complaint which outlines in what way the Code of Practice has been breached
  • Copies of any relevant documentation. An example of this is where there may have been communication with the editor of the publication concerned.

The Code of Practice

All member of the press have a duty to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards, meaning that they should consistently operate within the confines of the Code of Practice. Editors are responsible for the actions of the journalists which are employed by their publication meaning that it is necessary for them to ensure that the Code of Practice is followed. Editors are also expected to co-operate as quickly as is possible with the Commission in the case of a complaint.

What does the Code say? 

The code deals with the following areas:


Care should be taken not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material. Where this has been found to be the case it should be correctly in a prompt manner and whenever it is possible to do so an apology should be published.

Opportunity to Reply

A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies should be provided.


Individual’s privacy must be protected and editors will be expected to justify intrusions into people’s private lives.  Photographs without consent of people in private places are also deemed unacceptable.


Journalists are forbidden to engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit. It is up to the editor to ensure that this is complied with.

Intrusion into Grief or Shock

In cases concerning personal grief or shock journalists should ensure that their enquiries are carried out with sympathy and discretion.


Journalists are not allowed to interview or photograph children under the age of 16 on subjects that concern the personal welfare of the child in the absence of or without the consent of a parent or adult. When they are at school they should not be approached without the permission of the authorities.

Children in Sex Cases

The names of victims or witnesses who are children under the age of 16 should not be published. In the reporting of a case where a child has been the victim of a sex attack the following is forbidden:

  • The Child being identified
  • The adult being identified
  • The word incest should not be used
  • Care must be taken that nothing in the report implies the relationship between the accused and the child 


Journalists should identify themselves to a responsible executive and obtain permission prior to entering non-public areas.

Reporting of Crime

Relatives or persons connected with someone who has been convicted or is accused of a crime should not be indentified without their consent.

Hidden Devices

The press must not try to obtain or publish material that has been obtained using secret devices.

Victims of Sexual Assault

The press must not publish the names of victims of sexual assault or indeed publish information to enable it to be inferred who the victim was.


The press should ensure to avoid the publication of a prejudicial reference to a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation, or to any physical or mental illness, disability or handicap.  Reference to any of this should only be published if they are directly relevant to the story.

Financial Information

Journalists must not use information which they receive during the line of their work for their own financial gain.

Confidential Sources

There is a moral obligation imposed on journalists to keep confidential sources confidential.

Witness Payments in Criminal Trials

There should be no payment made to anyone considered to be a witness during the course of the trial.  The individual journalist will thus fall foul of the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

Criminal Payments

Payments should not be made to criminals for stories which are said to glamourise the nature of criminal acts.

The Public Interest Defence

This applies to the following breaches of Code:

  • Privacy
  • Harassment
  • Children
  • Children in sex cases
  • Hospitals
  • Reporting of Crime
  • Hidden devices
  • Payment to Criminals

If something is adjudged to be in the public interest and therefore exempt it will be found to be for the following reasons:

  • Detecting or exposing crime or a serious offence
  • Protecting Public Health and safety
  • Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action done by either an individual or an organization.
Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.