media-standards-trustThe Media Standards Trust has submitted a response [pdf] to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee to the defence by the Press Complaints Commission (“the PCC”) of the “Independent Press Standards Organisation” (“IPSO”).

The PCC’s defence of IPSO, published on the Culture Media and Sport Committee website on 4 March 2014, is its first published attempt to engage with some of the issues raised about the self-regulatory body being set up by the major news publishers, now due to launch in June 2014.

It is also its first attempt to rebut the Media Standards Trust’s assessment of IPSO, published on 15 November 2013. The MST assessment concluded that, contrary to claims made by IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation satisfied only 12 of Leveson’s 38 recommendations for an independent and effective self-regulator.

The MST response finds serious deficiencies in the PCC submission, and significant gaps, in particular:

1. The PCC submission does not engage with the MST analysis with regard to the overwhelming majority of Leveson Recommendations:

  • It only refers to the MST analysis in relation to Recommendation 10 (complaints handling) and Recommendations 1-5 (independence of appointments)
  • On Recommendation 10, the MST concluded that IPSO did satisfy Lord Justice Leveson’s Recommendation on complaints handling (it was one of the 12), so it is not clear why the PCC document should choose to take issue with that point
  • On Recommendations 1-5, the MST analysis demonstrates (pp.26-27) that the role of the Regulatory Funding Body is substantial and necessarily represents ‘influence from industry’
  • In addition, the MST analysis lists a further 21 Recommendations not fulfilled by IPSO, or where there is insufficient information to judge whether it will be fulfilled. The PCC submission makes no attempt to dispute these assessments.

2. The PCC submission stops at Recommendation 24:

  • The response ignores 14 of the relevant Leveson 38 Recommendations after Recommendation 24
  • We therefore must assume that it agrees with the MST’s IPSO assessment of these. The assessment found that IPSO failed 4 of these 14.

3. The PCC submission claims that IPSO adheres to ‘Leveson principles’ that the judge himself never used, and which feature nowhere in his report:

  • Leveson never defined any ‘Leveson principles’. As with any public inquiry report, Leveson made ‘Recommendations’
  • One therefore has to assume that the PCC has either subjectively and selectively defined these itself for the purpose of its response, or that it is basing them on five “key requirements” suggested by the Prime Minister on 29th November 2012:

“In volume IV of the report,’ the Prime Minister said, ‘Lord Justice Leveson sets out proposals for independent self-regulation organised by the media. He details the key “requirements” that an independent self-regulatory body should meet, including independence of appointments and funding, a standards code, an arbitration service, and a speedy complaint-handling mechanism. Crucially, it must have the power to demand up-front, prominent apologies and impose up to million-pound fines. These are the Leveson principles. They are the central recommendations of the report.” (David Cameron, Hansard, 29 Nov 2012, Column 448) [emphasis added]

This was shorthand for the purposes of an address to the Commons rather than a reinterpretation of the Leveson Report. It is significant that, when it came to the implementation of the Leveson report, the Prime Minister did not restrict himself to these five ‘principles’ but used Leveson’s Recommendations.

Yet even based on the PCC’s undefined ‘principles’, using the Prime Minister’s shorthand, it is clear that IPSO comprehensively fails to achieve even these:

Independence: the system is deeply compromised by the degree of control exercised by the largest publishers through the funding body – the Regulatory Funding Company

Standards code: the IPSO board, independent or not, will not be responsible for the Code as Leveson recommended. Moreover, code breaches will in many cases remain unrecorded and undisclosed to the public even when they are proven or admitted, thus undermining the foundation of an effective regulatory system

Arbitration: an arbitration system may – if it passes the RFC veto – exist at some future point in time. But even if it does, it will be optional for each publisher as a whole and, even for participating publishers, at the discretion of such publishers on a case-by-case basis. So in practice complainants will be denied fair access to affordable legal redress.

A speedy complaint-handling mechanism: IPSO retains the PCC approach to resolving complaints through mediation and institutes a process that will, if anything, take longer than the PCC took.

Power to demand up-front apologies and impose up to million-pound fines: IPSO has no power to demand up-front apologies. There is no process for imposing any fines on a newspaper for systemic failure, or for serious failure as Leveson recommended. IPSO sets the threshold higher – at serious and systemic failure – and even in that case the process by which ‘million-pound fines’ would be levied is constructed such that the likelihood of proportionate financial sanction is minimal

4. The submission admits that IPSO does not satisfy at least five of Leveson’s Recommendations but does not acknowledge that this compromises IPSO’s adherence to the Leveson report.

It admits that:

  • IPSO does not guarantee to provide an arbitration service (and even if it does, will allow publishers to opt in and opt out whenever they choose)
  • IPSO will significantly raise the bar to some third party complainants (‘representative group’ complaints)
  • IPSO will not have the power to direct apologies
  • IPSO will not have responsibility for writing or changing the Code of Practice
  • IPSO will have to negotiate its budget with the industry (via the RFC) on an annual basis and not, as Leveson recommended, on a 4-5 year basis

The four areas cited above demonstrate major failings. Together these mean that IPSO cannot be an independent and effective regulator on behalf of the public and that, in practice, it will be little different from the failed and discredited PCC.

In the rest of our response we individually address each of the PCC’s points regarding IPSO. We conclude that:

  • There is no need to change any of the assessments made in the original MST report
  • IPSO still only satisfies 12 of Leveson’s 38 recommendations
  • The PCC insistence on referring to ‘Leveson principles’ is unhelpful and misleading, based as it is on their subjective reading of the Leveson report. However, IPSO does not even satisfy those limited criteria

You can read the full response here: Media Standards Trust response to PCC defence of IPSO [pdf]