Opinion: The big publishers’ latest scheme: not so much IPSO as WOOPSO – Brian Cathcart

19 11 2013

IPSO Designed by PressBOFThe Media Standards Trust’s analysis of the latest press industry scheme for self-regulation, IPSO, should be enough to sink it forever. It shows beyond doubt that, far from delivering the kinds of changes demanded in the Leveson Report, as its authors claim it does, IPSO is another poorly-contrived confidence trick by the big newspaper companies.*

Leveson was clear: to protect the public and to prevent the press from slipping back into the culture of abuse and cover-up he exposed in his inquiry, a new self-regulator must be demonstrably independent and effective. The analysis by the Media Standards Trust is just as clear: if it ever came into existence, IPSO would be neither independent nor effective.Indeed, so numerous and so flagrant are the failings of IPSO (it satisfies only 12 of the 38 relevant Leveson recommendations), that it might be better named WOOPSO.

Perhaps the most vivid failing is one that relates to the ability of ordinary people to gain justice after they have been libelled by newspapers.Although Leveson recommended that a self-regulator should offer a cheap, quick arbitration service in cases where members of the public believed their legal rights had been breached, IPSO could only ever deliver a semblance of arbitration. If it happened at all it would be only after some years, and then it would be so circumscribed as to be useless to the public.Notably, newspapers would be free, not only to decide whether to participate in the scheme, but also to choose on a case-by-case basis whether to employ arbitration – which means, as the Trust points out:

‘From the perspective of the public this effectively removes the option of arbitration except when it suits the publisher. A publisher could, for example, see that a member of the public was not wealthy, then decide not to offer arbitration in the knowledge that the person simply could not afford to go to court.’

It is clear that those behind IPSO do not believe that members of the public should have access to justice when they suffer serious wrong at the hands of newspapers.In similar vein, when it comes to breaches of the industry’s own standards  code, those behind IPSO are determined to duck Leveson’s recommendations and maintain the discredited approach of the old Press Complaints Commission (PCC).The judge left no doubt: high among the PCC’s faults was its strong preference for ‘mediating’ complaints – fudging the outcomes with laboriously-negotiated ‘resolutions’ rather than making clear adjudications.  This made it far too easy for newspapers to wear down complainants by obfuscation and it also allowed the PCC to conceal standards code breaches rather than put them on the public record.If you want to see how unfair and unsatisfactory this approach is, read this, which also shows that despite the damning criticisms of the Leveson Report, the PCC continues to do this today.

As the Media Standards Trust analysis shows, the complaints system proposed in the IPSO scheme ‘mirrors the existing complaints service’.  So, ignoring Leveson, IPSO’s authors want more fudging and more ‘resolutions’ that obscure rather than expose standards code breaches. And just in case the public have not found the PCC system hard enough to work with, IPSO will introduce new opportunities for newspapers to intervene to frustrate the complaints process, but no role for the complainant to protest.

You might ask whether it matters if a standards code breach is publicly recorded, so long as there is a resolution for the complainant. Read this and you will see why it is vital: it shows that the Daily Mail breached a single clause of the standards code nine times in a year and the PCC took no action to ensure the paper mended its ways. As a result, grieving families will continue to suffer unjustified press intrusion.We will mention here only one more among the many other aspects of IPSO that fall short of what the public now expects.As you may have noticed, the newspapers that are most supportive of IPSO also claim to be greatly concerned that press self-regulation should be free of political influence. Hacked Off shares that concern, and that is something the Royal Charter will deliver but IPSO would not.

Under IPSO, as the Media Standards Trust points out, members of the House of Lords who take a party whip would be eligible to run the self-regulator, to be members of its board and to serve on its complaints committee.

This means that jobs would be open for people like Lord Hunt, the current chair of the PCC. Lord Hunt is a former Conservative cabinet minister who still routinely supports his party in votes in the House of Lords. Jobs would also be open for Lord (Guy) Black, another working Tory peer and a former Conservative party media chief. He currently runs PressBoF and he used to be director of the PCC.

If press self-regulation is to be seen to be free from political influence, men such as these, whatever their other virtues might be, cannot be allowed to direct or participate in it. They are politicians.

And given the excessively close relationship between politicians and the press that was exposed at the Leveson Inquiry, you might think that a supposed champion of press freedom such as the Daily Telegraph would be at the forefront of demands that the likes of Lord Black be kept at several arms’ length. But then Lord Black is executive director of Telegraph Media Group.

*The director of the Media Standards Trust, Martin Moore, was a founder of Hacked Off.

Brian Cathcart is Executive Director of Hacked Off

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24 11 2013
Opinion: The big publishers’ latest schem...

[…] The Media Standards Trust’s analysis of the latest press industry scheme for self-regulation, IPSO, should be enough to sink it forever.  […]

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