By Brian Cathcart
Work has begun on IPSO, the son-of-PCC that the big newspaper companies hope will fool the public into thinking they take self-regulation seriously. Already, the cynicism and dishonesty of the operation is becoming apparent:
1. In creating the IPSO appointment panel – which will pick the ‘independent’ IPSO board – the industry has actually breached IPSO’s own rules.
2. The appointment panel’s work is subject to a thinly disguised press industry veto.
3. The ‘press representatives’ on the panel are deeply compromised, notably by involvement in the discredited Press Complaints Commission (“PCC”) system.
4. Far from being a new organisation, IPSO is actually the same company as the discredited PCC. All its directors are also directors of the PCC.
This is just the beginning of IPSO, but it is clear evidence of what can be expected in future. The more the nature and operation of the organisation becomes public, the more we will see that it is a cosmetically-altered PCC that is designed, like its predecessor, to serve the interests of the big newspaper companies and not those of the public.
Those four points in more detail:
1. Breaching their own rules
The articles of association of IPSO [pdf] state (par 26) that
‘There shall be an Appointment Panel established in accordance with the Appointment Principles’.
Those principles are identified under the headings ‘merit’, ‘fairness’ and ‘openness’. The last, openness, is defined as follows:
‘. . . information about the requirements of the post and the selection process shall be publicly available and all appointments shall be advertised publicly in a way that is designed to attract a strong and diverse field of suitable candidates . . .’
So information about the requirements and the process should have been publicly available before the panel was chosen. It was not. Similarly, the vacancies should have been advertised publicly. They were not. These are IPSO’s own rules and this was the first opportunity there has been to break them. So they were broken.
2. Industry veto
IPSO’s appointment panel, which over the next few weeks will choose the founding members of the board of IPSO, comprises five people: Sir Hayden Phillips, a former senior civil servant (chair); Lord Brown of Eaton-under Heywood, a retired judge; Dame Denise Platt, former chair of the Commission for Social Care Inspection; Paul Horrocks, a retired regional newspaper editor, and John Witherow, editor of the Times. That is five members, of whom two represent the industry.
Lord Justice Leveson in his Report said such a body should have a ‘substantial majority’ that was ‘demonstrably independent of the industry’, but 3:2 is the smallest majority possible. Worse, the panel does not operate by simple majority voting, which might leave the newspapermen in a minority. Instead, we are told, decisions will be made “by consensus”, which actually means that they must be unanimous. Since they can easily prevent unanimity, the press representatives therefore have a veto on all appointments to the board of IPSO.
3. ‘Press representatives’*
Lord Justice Leveson did not envisage there being ‘press representatives’ on such a panel. His recommendation was for ‘at least one person with a current understanding and experience of the press’. We should not be surprised that at IPSO, an editors’ plaything, that turns out to mean two editors, one current and one retired.
Of these two, Mr Horrocks is a former Commissioner of the PCC who once appeared before a parliamentary select committee making the case that it was an excellent system. As almost everyone now acknowledges, it was nothing of the kind. As for Mr Witherow, he is a long-serving editor in the same group as the News of the World and a trusted lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch. His Sunday Times, supposedly a leading paper dedicated to investigative journalism, did nothing to expose the hacking scandal.
Mr Witherow (now at the Times, though that paper’s independent directors hesitated for months before confirming the appointment) is also a member of the Editors‘ Code Committee, another body much criticised in the Leveson Report, and he was a long-time cheerleader for the PCC. These appointments were apparently made with the advice of Sir Simon Jenkins (a former Murdoch editor) and Trevor Kavanagh (a former political editor of the Sun).
4. Same old PCC
IPSO is supposed to show the industry turning over a new leaf, creating a new relationship with the reading public and putting the past behind it. Instead it is the discredited PCC in new clothing. IPSO job recruitment is being carried out at the PCC. Many PCC staff are expected to join IPSO.
IPSO is registered at Companies House as company number 02538908, making it the same company as the PCC. And it has three directors who are also PCC directors: Lord David Hunt, the working Conservative peer who is the chair of the PCC; Lord Michael Grade, a PCC Commissioner who is also a working Conservative peer, and Peter Wright, former editor of the Mail on Sunday and now editor emeritus at Associated Newspapers.
* This is the term used to describe them by Sir Hayden Phillips. Elsewhere they are referred to as ‘industry representatives’.