UK Press Regulator Marks First Year Anniversary with Controversy

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has laid into the UK’s press regulator for rejecting his complaint against the Daily Mail over an article suggesting he tried to wriggle out of giving evidence to a parliamentary inquiry.

Blair’s attack against the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) comes as the regulator celebrates its first year of operation having been set up last September in the wake of Lord Justice Leveson’s Inquiry into press standards.

IPSO replaced the discredited Press Complaints Commission, widely criticised for its lack of action in the News of the World phone hacking affair. The main criticism of the PCC was its total lack of independence.

“The PCC has proved itself to be aligned with the interests of the press, effectively championing its interests,” Leveson wrote in his November 2012 Report. “The Editors’ Code Committee which sets the rules is wholly made up of serving editors. Its members are appointed by the Press Standards Board of Finance, itself entirely made up of senior industry figures.”

IPSO, on the other hand, is peopled with the great and good from across legal and business sectors as well as the fourth estate and comes complete with a Chairman and board, a full executive, and a Complaints Committee and Editors’ Code of Practice Committee appointed by an Appointments Panel. It is shortly to add a Head of Standards.

Independence doesn’t seem to be an issue, according to media experts. “Sir Alan Moses [IPSO’s Chairman] took the word ‘independent’ literally a year ago and so far IPSO seems to have been strikingly independent,” said Dan Tench, media partner at London-based law firm Olswang.

However the eclectic mix of IPSO’s personnel comes with its own problems – beyond the journalists on the board and complaints committee, there is a lack of obvious understanding of media and freedom of expression, which could be a challenge for the organisation. Also, and unlike its predecessor, IPSO hasn’t been proactive so far – for example the PCC took on its own and anonymous cases, carried out research and ran training courses for journalists and editors.

Blair’s complaint, like the overwhelming majority of IPSO cases, was brought under Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code of Practice, ‘Accuracy’ and the former prime minister said that the regulator’s decision amounted to a major failure.

Other politicians have been more successful. The Daily Telegraph was held to be in breach of the Editors’ Code because it failed to contact Nicola Sturgeon before a front page story reporting a leaked memo claiming Nicola Sturgeon secretly supported David Cameron in the General Election. IPSO required the paper to make a reference to the adjudication upholding the complaint on page 1 and print the adjudication and background in full on page 2.

Similarly significant rulings include one against The Times in relation to its 24 April article headline “Labour’s £1,000 tax on families’ which IPSO adjudicated had a misleading headline and first sentence: “Ed Miliband would saddle every working family with extra taxes equivalent to more than £1,000.”

In its first year IPSO has upheld 48 complaints, while 169 have not been upheld.

9 September 2015

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