By Brian Cathcart
Lord Faulks, the former Conservative minister who chairs IPSO, has rejected calls from people libelled by the Jewish Chronicle and from others who have seen complaints against the paper upheld to conduct a formal standards investigation into what has gone wrong at the paper.
Journalism standards at the Jewish Chronicle have collapsed in recent years. This relatively small weekly publication has admitted libel on four occasions and breached the IPSO code on 33 occasions – a rate of offending only large national daily newspaper organisations can rival.
Lord Faulks’s letter to the complainant group provides a vivid illustrations of why IPSO is unfit to regulate the press. It shows, amongst other problems, that IPSO will go to any lengths to avoid making a member publication accountable for abusing the pubic.
23rd December 2021
Note that IPSO wrote to this group of people on the day before Christmas Eve. As the recipients of the letter have said, this ‘smacks of the worst kind of news manipulation’.
I write further to IPSO’s Board meeting held on 14 December 2021, at which the Board discussed the concerns you raised on behalf of yourself and others regarding editorial standards at the Jewish Chronicle and your submission that IPSO should launch a standards investigation.
Having promised to write after the meeting, IPSO has waited nine days to do so, and fully five months have passed since the group called for a standards investigation, yet IPSO offers no explanation or apology for these delays.
As you know, the decision to launch a standards investigation is for IPSO’s Board alone, and the situations in which IPSO may choose to launch an investigation are set out clearly in its regulations.
Let’s see how clear.
The Board has carefully considered the concerns you raised, and discussed in detail whether the issues identified are of a serious and systemic nature and whether it was appropriate to launch an investigation.
The test for a standards investigation, as this implies, is that a problem must be both serious and systemic. How did the IPSO board decide on this?
The following factors were taken into account during the decision-making process: the significance of the concerns identified; the impact of those concerns…
‘Significance’ and ‘impact’ might reasonably be said to relate to seriousness, but how did the board assess ‘impact’ without asking for evidence from those targeted?
…proportionality; and sufficiency of information.
These factors don’t relate to whether the matter is serious or systemic. What kind of ‘proportionality’? And as for ‘sufficiency of information’, if IPSO lacks sufficient information (which it shouldn’t after all this time) surely the job of an investigation is to find it.
In its considerations, the Board looked in detail at the complaints against the Jewish Chronicle between 2018 to 2021; legal settlements during the period;
the publication’s handling of complaints; and its engagement with IPSO.
This all relates to whether the problems were ‘systemic’, and the only possible conclusion is an utterly damning one. Remember, 33 code breaches and four libels in three years, combined with serial defiance of IPSO’s rulings.
During its considerations, the Board noted issues with taking care in reporting accurately and the number of complaints upheld by the Complaints Committee since IPSO’s inception.
Again, utterly damning to the Jewish Chronicle. No paper in IPSO’s history comes close to such a record.
It also took into account concerns raised by IPSO’s Complaints Committee specifically relating to the handling of Audrey White’s complaint.
This was a case where the IPSO complaints committee declared publicly that the Jewish Chronicle had behaved in a manner that was ‘unacceptable’.
The Board also discussed changes at the publication over the past two years including a period of serious financial crisis…
Why is this relevant? Can there possibly be an IPSO rule that says publishers falling on hard times are free to breach the code? (The Sun loses a lot of money: is it exempt too?) And bear in mind that the reason the Jewish Chronicle nearly went bust was because it could not pay its libel bills.
… the change of ownership in 2020 …
Again, irrelevant. It’s as though IPSO is casting around for mitigating factors. But this wasn’t one: the new owners were not a new broom: they chose to retain the same editor and staff whose recklessness almost bankrupted the paper.
… and [changes of] personnel during 2020 and 2021 (including new editorial leadership),
Four days before this board meeting the long-time editor of the Jewish Chronicle stepped down, though he made no apology and remained on staff. He was replaced by a journalist who only this year was bylined on an article the paper subsequently admitted was libellous. Is IPSO really putting this forward as a mitigating factor?
… the size and nature of the entity …
Again, irrelevant. Do small, niche IPSO members have a special right to publish lies and inflict harm on members of the public?
… and its level of engagement with IPSO processes.
Which had been described as ‘unacceptable’. IPSO is dredging the depths here for anything that might be considered an excuse. If we are supposed to see this as the case for the defence, it is obviously a hopeless one.
Concerns regarding the Jewish Chronicle’s compliance with the Editors’ Code of Practice and handling of complaints were identified by the Executive early in 2018 and have been continuously monitored.
‘Early in 2018’: IPSO is telling us here that it has been aware of a problem for almost four years.
The Executive decided targeted training to all members of the editorial team would be an appropriate and proportionate course of action to remedy the concerns identified.
What is not made clear here is that IPSO offered training to the Jewish Chronicle, not in 2018 or 2019, when it was ‘continuously monitoring’ the collapse in standards, but in 2020. The newspaper did not find it convenient to accept the offer so the training did not happen.
A specially tailored training programme conducted in cooperation with the editorial leadership of the Jewish Chronicle has been developed and delivered during the course of this year.
Yes, that is 2021 – at least three years after the ‘continuous monitoring’ began and at least three years into the paper’s spree of damaging and reckless libels and code breaches. Until then, the people at IPSO sat on their hands.
The publication has cooperated fully with these efforts, ensuring that staff attended the sessions conducted by IPSO.
If this is meant to indicate virtue at the newspaper, or to suggest that IPSO has authority, it doesn’t. And remember, staff training in code compliance is a prerequisite of IPSO membership: all members are required to do it, and to report to IPSO on how they do it. The Jewish Chronicle itself has been claiming for years that it carried out compliance training for staff twice a year. Any idea that this is IPSO flexing its muscles is simply nonsense.
Taking this into account, along with the size of the publication…
So it’s true: smaller publishers don’t get investigated by IPSO. And of course neither do big ones like the Murdoch organisation or the Mail, because IPSO has never dared. Which leaves … nobody.
…and the changes of ownership and personnel it has undergone during the relevant period…
Another reference (‘and personnel’) to the change of editor. IPSO implies that the problems were the fault of the old editor but doesn’t have the courage to say so. And it completely ignores the libel record of the new editor – a point which Lord Faulks had been asked by the complainant group to communicate to the Board.
it is the Board’s decision that it would not be proportionate to launch a standards investigation at this time before the effects of the training programme and the other changes at the Jewish Chronicle can be fully assessed.
There you have it: no investigation ‘at this time’. Though IPSO has waited well over three years to get to this point, ‘continually monitoring’ the Jewish Chronicle while it abused individuals and misled its readers, it now claims it wants to spend more time ‘fully assessing’ it? And note that there is no further mention of those words ‘serious’ and ‘systematic’. No one could deny that what happened was both, so instead IPSO plucks ‘proportionate’ out of the air.
The Board has asked IPSO’s Executive to conduct a review in six months to assess whether the training and other changes have been embedded in the Jewish Chronicle’s editorial practices and review whether any further action on IPSO’s part is required.
‘Six months’: as a matter of practical reality, six months is roughly how long it takes for IPSO to process a complaint. So if people complain about the Jewish Chronicle over the next six months the outcome of those complaints will probably not be known when the review is written. And whatever happens, we know there will be no investigation because IPSO has now shown the world it doesn’t have the nerve.
The Executive will then report back to the Board.
That is the same Executive that did nothing about the Jewish Chronicle for years. Why would anyone trust them, especially when no criteria have been set to measure success or failure?
I would like to thank you for your engagement with IPSO on this issue.
Note that there is not one mention in this letter of the harm done to individuals by the Jewish Chronicle, or of the damaging effects of the misinformation it propagated. Characteristically, IPSO has been painstaking in its concern for the interests of a member publication while ignoring the harm that member has caused to ordinary people through its unethical journalism.
Edward (Lord) Faulks Chairman
To summarise, Lord Faulks’s case here is that IPSO watched closely while the Jewish Chronicle broke IPSO’s rules. After three years it decided to give some compliance training to the paper’s staff, which the paper has now graciously accepted. More rigorous action would not be appropriate because the paper is small and nearly went bust, and because it has changed editor (though IPSO does not say that the old editor was the problem or admit that the new one is a libeller).
So what really happened? An IPSO member inflicted harm on members of the public for years and IPSO did nothing while its authority was flouted. But instead of mounting an investigation and thus showing the paper and the world that it takes such behaviour seriously, IPSO has settled for the sop of training – which is supposed to happen routinely anyway. To justify this it has cited a list of mitigating factors for the paper that are irrelevant, while it has also sought to cover up its own failures.