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Sleepy IPSO, zombie PCC and the neglected public

By Michelle Gribbon

On 8 September 2014, the discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) finally closed its doors and its successor IPSO was launched.

The supposedly “new” regulator is based in the same office, with many of the same staff. But it is curiously quiet, even comatose. In the period of nearly 3 months since its birth, it has completed investigations into a grand total of… no complaints at all. It has published no decisions, adjudications or resolutions. Indeed, it has published very little at all.

The hyper inactive IPSO website records only one matter – the resolution of a complaint made by Dr Sarah Wollaston MP concerning a front page story from July 2014 about a named, non-pixilated, half-naked 4 year old child – the Sun’s so-called “Boyelzebub” with a “mark of the devil” on his chest. It is curious that IPSO is involved at all as it was a complaint made to the PCC when it was still “open”, and ended up being concluded without the PCC (let alone IPSO) doing anything at all. Still this “sign of life” generated some fawning coverage from its own members despite its total inaction on the matter.

The Sun front page July 29 2014
The Sun front page July 29 2014

The IPSO twitter feed (@IpsoNews) is also in a deep slumber. Since 9 September it has managed only two tweets – one advertising for a “complaints officer” and the other for five appointment panel members and three code committee members. Otherwise, silence.

All this is very bizarre because whilst the PCC itself – though formally dead – is in fact continuing to make adjudications and “resolve” complaints. Seven post mortem adjudications have been published – the last on 19 September 2014. And it continues to resolve complaints – with no less than 53 published since the organisation’s demise – with five out this week. Its summary for September 2014 has been published on the PCC website and lists 310 complaints that have been ”concluded” – a PCC euphemism for maximising rejection, minimising the recording of code breaches and struggling to avoid doing any adjudications.

They may argue that the PCC is dealing with a back-log of complaints and that they want to distinguish complaints made under the PCC and ergo under PCC rules, from complaints made under IPSO. But this does not explain why the ‘Devil-child’ so-called “resolution” was taken over by IPSO while all the others remained with the PCC. Perhaps it is all the same to the people involved – they are just the same body, with the same staff – just different branding.

The IPSO website is of little assistance. It states that it will accept complaints on articles published by its members after 8th July 2014, yet most of the complaints listed in the PCC’s September reports were about articles since that date and they have clearly been dealt with by the PCC, not IPSO.

What we are left with is a “live” organisation displaying no signs of life while its zombie predecessor continues as before – under the cover of a website which tells us that “the Press Complaints Commission is no longer active”.

The IPSO chairman, Sir Alan Moses, might have been able to explain what was going on in his long-planned, now cancelled public lecture at the LSE on 4 December 2014 entitled “IPSO and the Future of UK Press Regulation“. Unfortunately, while Sir Alan has been happy to cuddle up to the industry – telling the Society of Editors conference this month that they need not fear the much-vaunted £1m fines from him and antagonising victims of press abuse, he seems to avoid speaking to the public he claims he is there to serve. Moses’ much-heralded lecture has been rescheduled for 12 March 2015. Perhaps by that time, IPSO will have woken up.

In the meantime, the public will have to put up with the daily churn out of inaccurate, misleading and abusive stories with no transparent or independent post-publication regulatory oversight of any kind.

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2 Comments

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Simon Carnereply
November 28, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Interestingly, Adam Wagner, editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, reports IPSO deciding a complaint he made against the Sun – and finding against him. His report of the decision can be found at the foot of his blog discussing the original article, all of which is at http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2014/08/27/no-the-sun-euro-judges-do-not-go-against-uk-in-3-out-of-5-cases-more-like-1-in-100/. I have checked the PCC website to see if it is reported there and it isn’t.

Notes:
1 Don’t be fooled by the PCC report of a different complaint, decided on 7/11/14, brought by Adam Wagner against the Sun. That was an earlier complaint, also about the Sun and its coverage of ECHR matters, but relating to a different article entirely.
2 My pupose in making this comment is simply to draw attention to the fact that IPSO seems to have been active on this matter, but isn’t telling anyone, either as IPSO or as the PCC. The decision to reject the complaint by Adam Wagner seems entirely reasonable, given all the circumstances, as my comments beneath the Wagner blog explained.

Michelle Gribbonreply
November 28, 2014 at 8:41 pm

Thanks for your comment Simon. I’ll look into it.

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