A small group of powerful men are behind IPSO, the son-of-PCC that’s designed to dupe the public into thinking the newspaper industry has turned over a new leaf. In the first of a series of articles we look at Guy Black, Baron Black of Brentwood.
No individual is more closely associated with the failed and discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) and with its cosmetically altered replacement, IPSO (the ‘Independent Press Standards Organisation’), than Lord Black.
He was the full-time director of the PCC from 1996 to 2003. Then in 2007 he became a member and in 2009 the chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBoF), the secretive committee that oversees the PCC on behalf of the big newspaper companies. He is also executive director of Telegraph newspapers.
This means that he was day-to-day boss of the PCC while it failed to enforce the code of practice or protect the public from press abuses, and then joined and ran the body that ensures the PCC continued to provide that service to the industry.
Or, to put it another way, he has given 14 years of his life to operating and overseeing a body that, though he claimed it was a self-regulator that helped ordinary people*, was found by the Leveson Inquiry to have put the interests of the press before those of the public and permitted a culture to arise in which papers ‘wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people’.
If Black had played such a role in any other industry and seen the institution for which he was responsible criticised as damningly by a public inquiry as the PCC was in the Leveson Report, you would expect him to resign. And if he didn’t, you would expect him to be forced out by press outrage.
But Lord Black isn’t subject to press criticism because he is part of the exclusive club of people who run the press.
Instead of resigning he took charge of planning IPSO, a body that not only fails by miles to meet the Leveson recommendations, but will also incorporate important features the judge explicitly rejected when Black himself presented them to the inquiry. In other words, Black is deliberately raising two fingers to the Leveson public inquiry process.
And then there is Parliament and politics. All of the ‘cartel’ newspapers – those owned by the handful of big companies that dominate PressBoF – insist in their scaremongering editorials that press self-regulation must be free from political influence. Yet Guy Black, the chair of PressBoF and the executive director of the Telegraph, is a politician.
He is a working Conservative member of the Lords, taking the party whip, attending 84 per cent of votes and voting with his party 99.4 per cent of the time. He was also chief media adviser to Michael Howard when he was Tory leader.
Lord Black, in other words, personifies the unhealthy relationship between press and politics that Leveson criticised, and he intends to keep things that way, for PressBoF has always insisted that important jobs in the IPSO system must be open to party political peers. (The Royal Charter system, in contrast, rigorously excludes all party politicians.)
Black is also in the curious position of being a parliamentarian who is defying the will of Parliament. Although every party in the Commons, including his own, has endorsed the Royal Charter, and although his own House has shown over and over again its overwhelming support for the Charter, he continues to lead his industry in the opposite direction. So he is raising two fingers to democracy too.
Just how closely Black is involved in the design of IPSO, and just how brazenly he has defied Leveson, is revealed by his role in the so-called Hunt-Black plan, the revised scheme for a self-regulator that the industry put before Leveson in 2012 after it was clear the PCC was washed up.
Black personally presented this plan at the inquiry and argued its supposed merits. Leveson rejected it on a dozen counts. His comments (Part K, Chapter 8) included:
– it ‘fails to meet the requirement for effectiveness’,
– it ‘is structured entirely around the rights and interests of the press, with no explicit recognition of the rights of individuals’,
– it ‘does not provide the required degree of independence of enforcement’,
– its sanctions system ‘does not seem to me to be sufficient’, and
– its structures ‘give far too much influence‘ to a renamed PressBoF body.
Again, the leader of any other industry would have been pilloried in the press for such failure. Not Black. Instead, he retreated with his friends into the PressBoF bunker and cooked up IPSO – a body that incorporates almost all the characteristics of Hunt-Black that Leveson rejected.
And in the meantime PressBoF, under Black’s chairmanship, has engaged in laborious and no doubt highly expensive legal efforts to sabotage the Royal Charter.
Within weeks of Parliament’s endorsement of the Charter, PressBoF launched a cynical bid for a charter of its own – even as its newspapers were denouncing the very principle of a charter. Backed by legal threats, this campaign caused a delay of months until PressBoF’s arguments were thrown out by the courts and the Charter was formally granted. Incredibly, PressBoF is fighting this battle in the courts to this day.
Lord Black in summary:
– For fourteen years he occupied key positions in a ‘self-regulatory’ system that is now almost universally recognised as a failure.
– He did not resign from PressBoF even when a judge-led public inquiry sweepingly condemned not only the PCC but also his scheme to reform it.
– He is a working party politician deeply involved in the regulation of an industry that supposedly rejects political influence over its regulation on principle.
– He is a parliamentarian who is openly defying the near-unanimous will of Parliament.
– He chairs an organisation that is mounting a sustained court battle to wreck a Royal Charter that is endorsed and promoted by his own government, party and leader, and by Parliament.
Next in the series: Paul Dacre
* ‘I am very proud of the service that the PCC offers to ordinary members of the public and public figures alike. I am very proud of what the Code has achieved, and I think we ought to take the opportunity once a year to be able to trumpet that.’ – Guy Black to the DCMS Select Committee, 25 March 2003.