PCC-IPSO: making up the rules as they go along

by Brian Cathcart

We recently told you that the new sham press self-regulator, IPSO, had already breached its own articles of association. It turns out that what happened was even worse.

A mere four weeks after publishing what they called the ‘final’ IPSO articles – to the enthusiastic cheers of their own papers (‘a landmark in the history of British journalism,’ said an editorial in the Times) – the big press companies quietly exercised their power to alter those articles.

They were so discreet about this rule change – no editorials this time, no press release, no announcement of any kind – that we and the rest of the world were unaware of it.

Now we have seen the change, which alters the way in which IPSO’s board is set up, we can say that it reveals vividly the hypocrisy behind IPSO’s claim to be open and transparent. It also makes a further mockery of IPSO’s claim to be independent of the industry.

A little background. IPSO is the Independent Press Standards Organisation, a revamped version of the failed and discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that the Mail, the Sun, the Telegraph and their friends are preparing to launch in clear defiance of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry.

Although (like the PCC) IPSO will in all important respects be under the thumb of the big newspaper companies, an important part of their plan is to create the impression that it will be independent of them. With that in mind they told the world that the process of appointing the IPSO board would be fair and open.

The supposedly ‘final’ IPSO articles of association, published on 24 October last year, said in Article 26 that the IPSO board would be chosen by an appointments panel which would itself be selected in accordance with ‘appointments principles‘. These principles included the following:

Openness: 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.

As we pointed out, the IPSO appointments panel was nonetheless recruited without the publication of a single advertisement. Instead the process was, to say the least, obscure (see below).

It now appears that the appointments rules of IPSO were altered on 22 November, and in a curious way – by ‘special written resolutions’ of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) that were silently lodged at Companies House. One of these resolutions states:

That, notwithstanding the provisions in the new Articles, the initial Appointment Panel on adoption of the New Articles (‘the Initial Appointment Panel’) shall not be appointed in accordance with Article 26 of the New Articles but shall be appointed by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. The Initial Appointment Panel shall be deemed to have been appointed as the Company’s Appointment Panel in accordance with the New Articles.

By this simple manoeuvre Lord Phillips, a retired judge hand-picked for the task (see Q40) by the PCC chair Lord Hunt, was enabled to choose the appointments panel entirely behind closed doors and without accountability for any part of the process.

What does all of this tell us? It is no surprise, of course, that IPSO is not transparent or independent: that much has long been obvious. Nor does it much matter in the end who sits on the appointments panel, since anything they suggest can be vetoed by two ‘industry representatives’.

What is revealed in this tale is the readiness and power of those behind IPSO to treat it as a plaything that exists for their convenience – and their remarkable disdain for the public, whom it is designed to serve.

They told the public on 24 October that the IPSO appointments panel would be created in a way that emphasised merit, fairness and openness. A mere 29 days later they quietly sent documents to Companies House that allowed their chosen man, Lord Phillips, to make the appointment in whatever way he saw fit.

Lord Phillips then took advice from, among others, two senior journalists formerly employed by Rupert Murdoch (Trevor Kavanagh and Sir Simon Jenkins). He then chose as the ‘industry representatives’ who will wield the veto a key Murdoch lieutenant, Times editor John Witherow (author of the ‘landmark in history’ editorial), and a PCC stalwart, Paul Horrocks.

Alongside them sit three people from outside the industry: Sir Hayden Phillips, Dame Denise Platt and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood. These three are apparently content with an appointments process that is dramatically at odds with the published articles of association.

PS: if you want to see an example of transparency in appointments, have a look at the process currently under way to set up the Recognition Panel under the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation.

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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

February 13, 2014 at 3:16 pm

This is exactly the kind of unaccountable cronyism that Murdoch and Dacre would deplore if it occurred in any other area of public life. But, after everything we’ve already witnessed, is anyone really surprised?

February 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm

Anyone else thinking “ipso f*cked-o”…?

IPSO crisis: the start date for the PCC Mark 2 regulator is delayed again | Inforrm's Blogreply
April 1, 2014 at 9:02 am

[…] the way, the big companies found it necessary to bend the rules in a covert manner. Having proudly and publicly announced an appointments procedure that stressed ‘openness’, […]

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