On the day when the First Minister welcomed “today’s unequivocal verdict by IPSO on the Daily Telegraph’s story,” the story being Mr Toad’s leaking of a memo then lying about it, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how our press is regulated.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, IPSO, is a body which was set up to replace the ineffectual Press Complaints Commission, PCC, after the damning indictment of our press following the phone hacking revelations. Its job is to “promote and uphold the highest professional standards of journalism in the UK.” So far so grand. IPSO touts its standards in the “Editor’s Code of Practice.” The code is divided into 16 clauses which include Accuracy, Opportunity to Reply, Privacy and Harassment. Now anybody who knows our press could probably think of a few instances where at least a couple of these clauses have been broken. But that’s OK, because there is a very useful caveat within the code called “The Public Interest”, which handily allows the press to wriggle out of any aspect of the code should they wish.
For instance, look at what IPSO had to say about Frenchgate, “The Committee required the newspaper to publish an adjudication upholding the complaint. The adjudication should be published on page 2 of the print edition of the newspaper.” Not the front page where the original headlines screamed at all who looked, no hidden away will do. What about an apology? Nae chance.
But that’s what happens when a “code” is breached, it’s not like a criminal offence you see. After all it’s voluntary to follow the code and some of the press haven’t even signed up to IPSO’s code. All codes are optional, like the Ministerial Code, the Banking Code of Practice and The Financial Conduct Authority Code of Conduct. Codes are there to be broken, it’s not like they’re criminal laws after all, they’re just gentleman’s’ agreements which were devised in smoky members only clubs in Mayfair. The most that anyone will get for not following one of these codes is a wee slap on the wrist as IPSO’s pronouncement on the Daily Telegraph shows.
But what of IPSO, who are they? They consist of a Chairman, a Board, a Complaints Committee, and an Appointments Committee who hand out all of the jobs. There is also an Executive department who ensure things run smoothly.
The Chairman is Sir Alan Moses, a former Lord Justice of Appeal. He chairs the board and the complaints committee. He sent the Soham murderer to jail.
The Board is made up of 12 members including the Chairman, with 7 supposedly “independent” members and 5 from the press. However the IPSO website only lists 10 members of the Board with the Chairman being the eleventh. A quick tally of the incumbents shows a split of 4/7 between supposedly “independents” and media figures. Hmm, so far so old boys club.
So what of the vaunted Complaints Committee? Again the Chairman sits on this and there are supposed to be 7 “independents” and 5 media figures. But a quick look at their website shows that the Complaints Committee has a ratio of 4/8 of independents” to media figures. That’s an even worse ratio than the Board.
So what we have with IPSO is a Board, which is biased towards the media, governing a Complaints Committee which is even more biased towards the media. Both of which aim to uphold a “Code” which has no legal standing. Now wonder Hacked Off calls IPSO a “fake regulator” and a “sham.” I totally agree.