Broken promise #2

A majority of independent members at every level, and no industry veto on appointments

If IPSO is independent from industry, then why is its funding controlled by the industry?

  • IPSO’s funding is controlled by a company called the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC). When Sir Joseph Pilling reviewed IPSO’s operations in 2016, all nine of its directors held senior management positions at the major newspaper and magazine publishing groups. As he noted, the RFC has two functions, the first of which is to obtain IPSO’s funding, by way of levy collection from its members.
  • In its response to the PRP’s finding that it lacks proper independence from industry, IPSO said as follows: ‘IPSO’s independence from the industry is protected by five-year funding agreements, the most recent of which was settled in 2019, and by enforceable contracts with its regulated publishers.’
  • As Pilling discovered, and the PRP reminded IPSO, Art 24.4 of the RFC’s Articles of Association dictate that IPSO’s budget is ‘still subject to annual review by the RFC, which requires monthly accounts from IPSO’. Moreover, Pilling concluded that the absence of any formal requirement for longer-term settlements constituted, at the very least, a threat to the ‘perception of independence’.
  • Consequently, IPSO’s access to funds is dependent upon RFC approval.

If IPSO is independent from industry, then why is it using a code of conduct which it has no power to control, change, or determine?

If both IPSO and the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee are independent from industry then why does the industry-controlled RFC have power of veto over any proposed changes to the Editors’ Code?

  • The second function of the RFC is to convene the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee. As Pilling put it, the code is ‘the starting point for all work by IPSO on standards and on complaints’.[1] At that point, the composition of the committee was such that even Pilling expressed some concern: ‘the five non-editor members are comfortably outnumbered by the ten members from the industry and it is chaired by an editor elected by the industry members of the Committee.’[2]
  • Whereas changes to the code cannot occur with IPSO’s approval (we are told), IPSO cannot demand changes are made, for not only must the Committee itself agree to such a change, but so too must the RFC, which is wholly comprised of industry figures.[3] Pilling’s recommendation that the Committee amend its constitution so as to allow a greater number of IPSO board members to sit on it[4] was ignored.
  • Indeed, Pilling was told that industry members respected the Editors’ Code only because of the industry’s control over it: ‘They are ready to accept limits on that freedom when they are imposed by colleagues they know to value press freedom as highly as they do themselves’.[5]
  • Consequently, we see that IPSO’s claims of independence from industry are utterly and wholly wrong.

If IPSO is independent from industry, then why must the IPSO Appointments Panel consult the RFC on the suitability of candidates for key IPSO roles?’

  • As the PRP notes in its response to IPSO, the RFC, which is entirely populated by senior industry figures must be consulted a) by the Appointments Panel on the suitability of industry representatives on the IPSO board, b) by the IPSO board on the suitability of candidates for a position on the Complaints Committee (which handles all complaints). This is in addition to the power of control that the RFC has over changes to the Editors’ Code.
  • If IPSO is independent from industry, then why can it not change its Regulations without the approval of the RFC and a majority vote by its members?
  • Under clause 7.1 of its Scheme Membership Agreement, IPSO’s Regulations (barring Annex C) cannot be amended without the approval of the RFC and a majority vote by its members.
  • Under clause 7.2 of its Scheme Membership Agreement, the complaints procedure, contained in Annex C to the Regulations, cannot be amended without the approval of the RFC.

 

Independence from government?

  • If ‘zero political involvement in press regulation’[6] is an absolute, then why are so many current and former politicians involved with IPSO?
  • The industry reaction to Leveson’s recommendations was, as Steven Barnett put it at the time, ‘carefully orchestrated hysteria.’[7] Such was the noise that the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers – WAN -IFRA – investigated what it called the ‘concerning’ involvement of politicians with press freedom. In its report of March 2014, it urged the government to re-embrace ‘the principle of zero involvement of politicians in press regulation’.[8] Ian Murray, as President of the Society of Editors told the delegation that ‘the overwhelming majority of the press’ objected to the notion of allowing ‘any element of the state a role in the regulation of the press’ (emphasis added).[9]
  • Lord Black has consistently described the Royal Charter and the recognition process as a ‘state-backed’, ‘state-controlled’, and ‘state-run’ enterprise that would end 300 years of press freedom. He has also been consistently unable to explain why this should be so or why, given that it matches his definition precisely, he does not describe the judicial system in the same dark terms.
  • This mirrors a central plank of IPSO’s values: independence, which is described in these terms: “IPSO will carry out its work free from control or interference by the press, parliament, interest groups or individuals’.
  • Lord Black (and, in fact, anyone connected with IPSO), though, is less vocal about the present, continuing influence of Parliamentarians and statesmen more generally in the process of creating and operating IPSO.
  • Lord Black, himself an active Parliamentarian, was instrumental in creating IPSO. Yet he is hardly the only serving member of Parliament to be responsible for its creation. Indeed, examining the history of IPSO, we find Parliamentary involvement at all stages of its establishment, right through to today.
  • IPSO emerged from a Foundation Group, which was chaired by Lord Philips, the former President of the Supreme Court and member of the House of Lords. He was joined by Lord Butler, a retired civil servant and fellow member of the House of Lords as well as Lord Smith, former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and, of course, member of the House of Lords.
  • The Foundation Group was instrumental in creating the Appointments Panel, which was tasked with establishing IPSO’s board. The Appointments Panel was chaired by Sir Hayden Phillips, a former senior civil servant who was Permanent Secretary to Chris Smith and former Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor’s office. He was joined, on the panel, by former Supreme Court judge, and member of the House of Lords, Lord Brown, and former civil servant Dame Denise Platt.
  • The Appointments Panel, of course, appointed former judge Sir Alan Moses as the first chair of IPSO. It subsequently appointed Lord Faulks, an ‘unaffiliated’ member of the House of Lords. IPSO asserts in its response to the PRP that Faulks ‘has not served in any ministerial positions for over five years,’ which would satisfy the Leveson criteria for appointments… if it were true.
  • Instead, as the PRP points out, Lord Faulks was appointed as chair of IPSO in August 2019, commencing his role on 1 January 2020. Lord Faulks’s term as Justice Minister only concluded in July 2016. He was, until shortly before his appointment was made official, the Conservative whip. His longstanding affiliation with the Conservative Party ended in July 2019 – the month before he was appointed. As the PRP put it, ‘it is not a question of the integrity of any individual, but about any press regulator being objectively seen to be independent.’
  • Meanwhile, WAN-IFRA remains silent about this actual political involvement, as it did about the actual involvement of politicians in the management of newspapers, both prior to and in the aftermath of, the Leveson inquiry. It made no mention of Lord Black’s active involvement in Pressbof, (the Press Standards Board of Finance), of which he was chair until its closure in 2016. Nor did it mention Lord Black’s involvement with the Telegraph Media Group, of which he was executive director (2005-2018), and is now deputy chairman. It was also silent on the long history of state involvement with self-regulation, from the appointment of Lord Devlin (the original chair of the Press Council), to Lord Wakeham, who was chair of the PCC from 1995-2001. Had it had regard to this involvement, it might have questioned what exactly Murray meant by this reference to state involvement – perhaps then WAN-IFRA might have discovered that the objection would have been to meaningful press regulation of the type Leveson promised and not the sham regulation we are treated to. For, of course, in its present form, it really does not matter that active politicians are closely involved because IPSO is simply for show.
  • This selective aversion to political interference is wearing thin. If IPSO fears that any involvement of politicians is as Paul Dacre put it to Leveson, ‘the thin end of the wedge’, then there should zero tolerance toward actual political involvement in either its operation or processes and active intolerance of political involvement in newspaper ownership. Instead, we find IPSO defending its choice of chair through the laughable claim that Lord Faulks is an unaffliated peer, as if that somehow inoculates him from political persuasion or else renders the prospect of political influence nugatory.

 

 

[1] Pilling Report, 11, [33].

[2] Ibid, 11, [35].

[3] See Pilling Report, 11, [35].

[4] Ibid, 12, [37].

[5] Ibid, 13, [42].

[6] WAN-IFRA, Press Freedom in the UK, March 2014, 28

[7] S Barnett, ‘Leveson Past, Present and Future: The Politics of Press Regulation’ (2013) 84(3) Political Quarterly 353, 353.

[8] WAN-IFRA, Press Freedom in the UK, March 2014, 28.

[9] Ibid, 13.

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