Privacy complaints soar

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Britain's press watchdog has confirmed that 2006 saw more complaints about invasion of privacy than ever before.

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) also revealed in its annual report that it successfully conciliated a record number of complaints – 20 per cent more than a year earlier – after 418 were resolved.

But the total number of complaints about British newspapers and magazines, including their websites, dropped by about ten per cent to 3,325.

In total, the PCC dealt with 231 cases relating directly to a person's privacy last year, of which 96 were settled "amicably following an agreement brokered by PCC officials" and most related to the regional and local press.

Sir Christopher Meyer, the self-regulatory body's chairman, said the figures made it clear that many more privacy cases were able to be resolved satisfactorily by the PCC than the few, often high-profile, cases which ended up in court.

"It is absolutely wrong to see the law and PCC as competitors," he said.

"While every year you get three or four privacy cases rumbling through the courts, we have the speed and flexibility to deal with several hundred."

And he stressed that the commission was a service for everyone, not just celebrities.

"Very many of the things that come to us are what you might, and I might, think are pretty insignificant, but for the people concerned it's very, very important and that is the bread and butter of our work," he added on the Today programme.

As to how much of a problem harassment of individuals was, such as with the privacy complaint brought by Prince William's ex-girlfriend Kate Middleton, Sir Christopher explained that the PCC provided a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, anti-harassment service.

"This is intended to forestall complaints under clause four of our code of practice that says that journalists must not engage in persistent pursuit and harassment of people who don't want to be talked to and don't want to be photographed," he said.

"Kate Middleton happened to be a celebrity for whom we provided that service on two occasions; we pulled the press and photographers off. Last year 30 ordinary people, if I can use that phrase, were able to avail themselves of the service."

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