By Brian Cathcart
For most of the past three years the Jewish Chronicle has breached either the law or the Editors’ Code of Practice roughly once in every four editions it has published, and it has done so despite having a stack of adverse rulings from IPSO and despite having to pay damages for successive libels.
If ever a company was crying out for investigation by its regulator this is surely it, yet IPSO only began to show signs of concern last month after nine of the paper’s victims published a joint letter of protest.
Whether IPSO is actually prepared to launch what would be its first investigation in seven years of existence remains to be seen, but the Jewish Chronicle’s ability to get away with serial inaccuracies and with refusing to correct them is already a dreadful stain on IPSO’s record.
The series began with a complaint to IPSO in 2018 by Mike Sivier which resulted in a finding by IPSO’s complaints committee that the weekly paper had breached the clause of the code relating to accuracy. A few months later a complaint by Thomas Suarez led to a finding of four breaches of the code.
Then later in 2019 came the case of Audrey White, when IPSO found no fewer than 10 code breaches, mostly inaccuracies but also failure to publish timely corrections. On this occasion the ruling described the conduct of the Jewish Chronicle in the course of the complaint process as unacceptable and the paper, we were told, was reported to the IPSO standards department.
We get a good idea of what kind of difference that made by what happened next. The next year saw four adverse rulings and 11 more breaches of the code, and the sequence has continued into 2021 with three more adverse rulings and seven more code breaches.
As if this were not bad enough – and 33 code breaches in three years is an extraordinary achievement for a small, niche weekly publication – there have also been four libel settlements in the same period. That is to say, on four occasions in three years the Jewish Chronicle was forced to admit libelling people, to pay them damages and to publish apologies.
The record leaves no doubt: standards of accuracy at the paper have collapsed and despite financial cost and public shaming the management is either unwilling or unable to do anything about it.
To all outward appearances IPSO has been sitting on its hands throughout this, failing to confront one of its smallest members about its serial misconduct. In July 2020, when Audrey White wrote to IPSO asking what the standards department had done about her case, she got no answer.
What are the consequences? If IPSO had acted like a real regulator in November 2019 it might have prevented the publication of damaging falsehoods about at least nine people, and it might also have spared the readers of the Jewish Chronicle from being serially misled.
The case for a standards investigation now is surely unanswerable, at least for any impartial observer. Indeed there are strong grounds to extend the investigation to look into why IPSO failed to take timely action.
Bear in mind here that the Jewish Chronicle volunteered to be a member of IPSO, to accept its rules and to abide by the Editors’ Code. No coercion was involved, so nobody can complain that any action taken by IPSO to uphold its rules might constitute a restraint on press freedom.
On the contrary, the big corporate papers who own and promote IPSO want us to believe that it is powerful and effective. The problem is that they don’t want it to affect them. So let us see: will they allow IPSO to tackle the Jewish Chronicle, or will they be concerned to avoid a precedent, fearing the consequences for their own substandard journalism?