The more that IPSO struggles to appear different from the discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) it is supposed to replace, the more it reveals itself to be just the same. In its latest spasm of activity it has announced the appointment of an External Reviewer in the person of Sir Joseph Pilling, a former Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland Office.
Sir Joseph, who we are told is ‘eminent and experienced’, will report on how IPSO is fulfilling its role as regulator and will monitor IPSO’s effectiveness and independence.
Rewind just 12 years to 2004, when, in the teeth of growing public scepticism, the PCC was also anxious to show how effective and independent it was. What did it do? It appointed a ‘Charter Commissioner’ to review its work, and whom did it choose for the task? Sir Brian Cubbon – also a former Permanent Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office.
Sir Brian worked with an impressive-sounding body called the Charter Compliance Panel and from 2004 onward they and their no-less-eminent successors produced short annual reports which aroused barely a ripple of interest anywhere.
This continued until the last shreds of public trust in the PCC were falling away in 2009, at which point a supposedly completely different approach was taken: an ‘Independent Governance Review’. By the time its report landed, however, the PCC was already all but dead.
When the Leveson Report damningly concluded that the PCC had ‘proved itself to be aligned with the interests of the press’ (Executive Summary, para 45 [pdf]) it was very clear that whatever else they may have done, the Charter Commissioners, Charter Compliance Panels and Independent Governance Reviews had signally failed to make it independent.
The Leveson Report also pointed to a historic ‘pattern of cosmetic reform’ that could be detected when the corporate press found its experiments in self-regulation slipping into ridicule, and here we see the pattern again: yesterday’s ‘Charter Commissioner’ is today’s ‘External Reviewer’.
Also reminiscent of the PCC is the opaque character of the post. We have little information, for example, about how much Sir Joseph Pilling is paid by IPSO, what say he had in his terms of reference, the role of the industry in appointing him and what input IPSO will have into his report.
If Sir Joseph sincerely wants to perform a service to the public he should tell his new employers, the corporate national press, to stop reliving their past mistakes in this fashion. There is only one sure way to satisfy the public that IPSO is not the puppet of the press (as all of their so-called regulators have been since the 1950s) and that is to make it conform to the straightforward standards set out in the Leveson Report and then get it recognized by the fully independent mechanism delivered by the Royal Charter.
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks