No regulation, no arbitration, no investigations, no independent auditing, weak excuses from the chief executive
The so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO, was one year old this week. It was set up in defiance of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, of the views of victims and the general public, and of Parliament.
IPSO’s propagandists and paymasters in the British press told us that, in the words of the director of the Society of Editors, it would be “the toughest regulator in the western world” with its much vaunted power to levy “million pound fines”. This time, we were told, it would be different from the weak and failed press self-regulators of the last 70 years.
The reality is, of course, very different. Hacked Off has already commented on the flawed and inadequate complaints resolution procedures – see our new publication, The Failure of IPSO.
What about the rest? What about investigation, arbitration and auditing? The short answer is that IPSO has done nothing at all.
The first problem is IPSO’s own rules. These were designed by the press to make it extremely difficult for investigations to take place – allowing for up to six interventions by the publisher and none by the victim (see the MST’s damning verdict).
Earlier this year the Chair of IPSO, Sir Alan Moses, said that the rules and regulations of IPSO were opaque, contradictory, difficult to understand.
So what changes have been made? Well, none at all.
The Chief Executive, Matt Tee, has said that IPSO was “very close being ready to announce the changes we’ve agreed to rules and regulation”.
So far the public has had no information. These are changes discussed behind closed doors without any public consultation or input. Let’s see whether they make any difference.
What about investigations? How many times has IPSO investigated press misconduct? The answer is “none”.
Matt Tee admitted to the Media Show that “There haven’t been any investigations.” His excuse was remarkable; “Not a single person has asked us to carry out an investigation”, he said.
So this new and dynamic regulator has done no investigation because they claim no one has asked it to? This beggars belief. Imagine the reaction of the press if the similarly named but very different regulator IPSA – the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority – announced that they had not investigated any MPs because no one had asked it to! And there is nothing on the IPSO website that advises people how to seek an investigation. Despite this, Hacked Off knows of at least one person who did asked IPSO to investigate whether their member newspapers were complying with the code requirement to publish fair and accurate reports of libel actions they lose.
And what about the much vaunted regime for “million pound fines”? Well, surprise surprise, there have been no fines – not even £1 – for newspapers which have, even by IPSO’s own feeble standards, breached their own code on numerous occasions over the past year.
There is then the matter of low cost arbitration – central to the Leveson Recommendations and not offered by IPSO. What is it doing about this?
Well, for the first time, it has actually consulted the public. It will, in due course, tell us the results of this consultation. Perhaps, at some point in the future, it might even tell us what it is going to do about arbitration. At present there is nothing in place. If IPSO continue to reject Recognition and they do not ensure that newspapers can not cherry pick cases for arbitration, and that the arbitration is free to the claimant, then it will not be Leveson arbitration anyway. If it is not part of a recognised regulator, there is no incentive for the public to trust it and use it.
Finally, there is the question of independent audit. Central to the Leveson Recommendations – to the balance between the interests of the press and the public – was a wholly independent body to audit press regulators. This body would assess whether the regulator was, in fact, independent and effective. The body which was established was the Press Recognition Panel – wholly free from political, press or other outside influences.
Mr Tee’s bosses in the press are not prepared to submit IPSO to audit by this body. They know it would fail. However, Sir Alan Moses recognised that it would be even more disastrous for IPSO to persist without offering even the appearance of some kind of auditing process and promised that IPSO would submit itself to independent audit.
What has been done about this? Again, nothing.
Mr Tee tells us that:
“We are about to ask our independent appointments panel to appoint an independent person of high standing to conduct exactly such an audit. We are going to commission it within the next month”.
This “independent appointments panel” – consists of a chair (originally appointed by the press’ wholly-owned “Foundation Group” under a secret process which was not even Nolan-compliant) with industry connections, the Chair of IPSO, two editors (“industry posts” as IPSO calls them), and a former civil servant and a solicitor. It has no representative of victims or the public. A person appointed by this body cannot be independent of the press.
Moreover, this appointments panel was appointed by IPSO. No person appointed by such a panel to audit IPSO can be considered independent of IPSO.
So, put shortly, no investigations, no fines, none of the necessary rule changes and no prospect of a fair arbitration scheme. The best that can be said about IPSO that it is consistent – it has a consistent record of failure.
In the words of the only one of its member newspapers to express an opinion, the Press Gazette, IPSO has failed as a regulator.