IPSO – myths and realities

Many outlandish claims have been made for IPSO in advertising, and by people involved with it, showing how desperate the backers of the PCC Mark 2 are to position it as a ‘fresh start’.  Unfortunately, these claims don’t stand up to scrutiny…

MYTH:  “A tough new regulator for the press – the toughest in the Western world

REALITY:  Many Western European countries – for example, Finland – have a much ‘tougher’ statutory regulatory system including a right of reply alongside legal guarantees for freedom of expression by the media. Finland was also notably at the top of the World Press Freedom Index in both 2013 and 2014. By comparison, the UK, where the press regulates itself, languishes in 34th place.

MYTH:  “It will deliver all the key elements Lord Justice Leveson called for in his report

REALITY:  IPSO falls critically short of Leveson’s 38 recommendations on press self-regulation. This is confirmed by the rigorous Media Standards Trust analysis that identifies 20 Leveson recommendations that IPSO fails to satisfy, including recommendations relating to independence from industry, access to justice and complaints handling. The MST findings have not been rebutted by IPSO.

Because those behind IPSO know that it doesn’t meet the Leveson requirements, they refuse to submit IPSO for recognition under the Royal Charter on press self-regulation.

MYTH:  “It will guarantee the British public enjoy the standard of journalism they deserve

REALITY:  By deliberate design, IPSO guarantees the British public get an unaccountable press with newspapers free to treat individuals and entire sectors of society with contempt and cruelty. In defying the Leveson recommendations, IPSO categorically ignores the wishes of the majority of the British public, British politicians of all parties, many civil society groups, the leading victims of press abuse and hundreds of major figures from the world of free expression.

MYTH:  “Tough sanctions: IPSO will have the power to impose fines of up to £1m for systematic wrongdoing

REALITY:  A £1m fine will never happen – not least because the fine is capped at 1% of the turnover of the publication. Fines would only theoretically apply after a publication had been subject to a full investigation and found seriously at fault, but these investigations would be so difficult to carry out that such fines would never be imposed.

MYTH:  “Upfront corrections: When editors get a story wrong they will have to correct it fully and prominently

REALITY:  IPSO does not have the explicit power to require or to direct the placement of apologies. There will be no front-page apologies for front-page libels.

MYTH:  “Investigative powers: Where there is evidence of deliberate malpractice, IPSO will deploy expert investigators to call editors to account

REALITY:  There is an extremely high threshold for any inquiry, and there would be seven clear opportunities for any newspaper to obstruct, delay and challenge any investigators. Their past behaviour – particularly in relation to phone hacking – strongly suggests that newspapers would delay any process for as long as possible. The budget for investigations is held by a supposedly independent company – the Regulatory Funding Committee – run by the major newspaper groups. They would be able to limit funding if investigations became embarrassing to their own newspapers.

MYTH:  “Genuine independence: The Board of IPSO will have a majority of independent members and an independent chair, chosen in a transparent and open process

REALITY:  IPSO is effectively controlled not by its board, but by the Regulatory Funding Committee – a powerful trade body dominated by Editors that directs, and can veto, the selection of members, voting and budgets.

MYTH:  “IPSO is entirely independent of all political parties

REALITY:  The architects of IPSO, Lord Guy Black and Lord David Hunt, are both Conservative peers and were both leading figures in the Press Complaints Committee

MYTH:  “It will be a wholly new organisation – not son or daughter of PCC, or even a remote relative, but a completely new beast in the media regulatory jungle”

REALITY:  IPSO is the PCC in all but name. It will have the same staff, office and company number as the Press Complaints Commission. It is financed by the RFC, which is dominated by editors and can veto the appointment of industry candidates. Editors will continue to write their own Code of Practice and ultimately adjudicate on whether they and their fellow editors have followed it – in effect, marking their own homework.