Just as did its predecessor the Press Complaints Commission, IPSO applies the kind of perverse reasoning to the commercial advantage of its sponsors and creators which you would expect from a regulator which in defiance of both the will of parliament and the public has been set up by the press, funded by the press, the Code written by the press, its personnel appointed by the press, and with press delegates in the form of ex-editors on its complaints committee.
IPSO betrays its lack of independence most blatantly in its adjudications concerning prominence where the interests of its sponsors are preferred over those both of the general public and the Complainant with the result that there is a massive discrepancy between the extent of publication of the errant article, and its IPSO sponsored correction. The result is that the vast proportion of those people who are misled by a press publication are none the wiser at the conclusion of the IPSO process both to their detriment and that of the complainant.
This, according to IPSO’s Chief Executive Matt Tee, is not merely the doing the bidding of the press on the issue of prominence (“due prominence” being what the Code demand), but rather the application by IPSO of the principle of proportionality; i.e. that its policy of allowing only a tiny fraction of those misled by a press article to learn the truth is “proportionate”. IPSO has now applied its perverse reasoning to the substance of an adjudication rather than just to its dissemination.
In the recent adjudication of a complaint brought by Whirlpool against the Mirror over an article claiming that it would take four years for all the defective machines to be repaired IPSO refused to uphold a complaint that a Mirror story about the problems with Whirlpool Tumble driers. Whirlpool complained that this claim published by the Mirror was inaccurate and misleading – as indeed it undoubtedly was. The false claim also engaged the public interest because if Mirror readers of the article junk large numbers of tumble dryers which would otherwise be repaired free of charge then not only do they suffer unnecessary expense, but perfectly serviceable machines end up on dumps.
Paragraph 1 (i) of the IPSO Code stipulates that newspapers and periodicals must take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading material. As was made clear to the Mirror prior to publication, and IPSO post-publication, the assertion that owners of Whirlpool machines could wait four years for them to be repaired was both substantially inaccurate and misleading on the basis of a number of incontrovertible facts; and the factual basis on which the claim was made was substantially flawed.
The four year claim should therefore neither have been published; but once published and should have been corrected according the stipulation at paragraph 1 (ii) of the IPSO Code. IPSO’s response to this seemingly straightforward application of its own Code is remarkable. It decided that because this false claim had previously been made by a BBC journalist, that notwithstanding that it was both inaccurate and misleading, there was no breach of the Code for the Mirror to repeat it.
This peculiar IPSO logic can readily be stress-tested by the application of facts which engage the public interest to a still greater degree than the ones that issue in the adjudication. If one journalist wrongly claims that the vaccination of infants poses serious health risks, and a newspaper approaches the manufacturer of the medicine who informs that paper unequivocally that the claim is wrong as a matter of scientific fact, according to the IPSO logic there is no breach of the Code (and the public interest is served) by that newspaper repeating the dangerous fallacy initially espoused by another part of the media.
So it is that IPSO itself continues to contribute liberally to the already vast body of evidence that it is no more an independent or effective regulator than any of its three self-regulation predecessors. While it is place the liberty of Fleet Street to mislead the public for commercial and/or editorial agenda reasons remains unfettered. This is because Fleet St. knows that its custom-built regulator IPSO will either loyally record perverse adjudications of complaints in its favour; or if on occasion adverse adjudications are made, IPSO will play its part with equal loyalty in ensuring that the vast majority of those people who need to know about such adjudications never find out about them.
Jonathan Coad acted for Whirlpool UK Appliances Ltd on this complaint. He is a partner in the Creative World Group at Lewis Silkin LLP and acts for both claimants and defendants. Follow him on @jonathan_coad.