The new chair of IPSO is Lord Faulks and he’s a former Conservative government minister, not from the distant past but as recently as the summer of 2016. He is also a working member of the House of Lords who, while he might not formally take the Conservative whip, almost always votes with the Conservatives.
No wonder the Conservative newspapers that dominate the corporate press approve of him. And he will no doubt have a cosy relationship with Lord Black, the very Conservative vice chair of the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC) which owns IPSO body and soul. (More about him later.)
This is characteristically hypocritical. You will remember that the supposed point of principle on which the corporate press rejected the Leveson formula for press regulation was that it is supposedly subject to political influence. It was ‘statutory’, they said (wrongly), and therefore it would allow the state to influence press content.
Yet with the appointment of Lord Faulks we are reminded that these same papers are happy to have Conservative politicians – in this case one recently in government – in charge of their sham regulator.
Of course, what they really objected to in the Leveson scheme was not that it was insufficiently independent of politicians – in reality it is far more so than IPSO – but that it would be too independent of them, and thus capable of being too effective in upholding standards for their taste.
Clause 1(i) of their code of practice states: ‘The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images . . .’ Just imagine how different British journalism would be, and how different Britain would be, if an independent-minded regulator set about upholding that with any vigour.
The truth is that the press idea of political independence for their regulator is that it should be as close to the Conservative party as conceivably possible, and this is nothing new. Of the five chairs of the unlamented and totally discredited Press Complaints Commission (1991-2014), three were actually working Conservative peers and one was the former press secretary to a Conservative prime minister. That’s cosy.
Fitting the mould
Lord Faulks fits this mould. That he no longer takes the Tory whip in the Lords is a fig leaf and no more. Take a look at his voting record.
It is hard not to pity him a little. Like Sir Alan Moses, and no doubt like all the rest before him, he has opened his innings with bold talk about protecting victims and holding papers to account. He doesn’t have the power to do that, and if he really doesn’t know it already he will soon find out.
He has simply sold them his reputation and he is now their puppet, to be trotted out on occasion to lend what credibility he can to the many hypocrisies underpinning IPSO. Nothing more will be permitted from him. In the reign of Sir Alan Moses, as I recall, the high point of his independence came when he publicly made a very mild joke about Paul Dacre in the man’s presence. He might as well have been wearing a belled hat and waving a pig’s bladder.
If Faulks is foolish enough to think he can reform IPSO he will soon learn. One of Moses’s other humiliations was an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee in which he was confronted with the total failure of his organisation to tackle the persistent abuse of Muslims in the press. All he could do was whimper that IPSO’s rules, written for it by his press bosses, prevented it from acting.
Which brings us back to Lord Black of Brentwood, who personally embodies the firm bond between sham press regulation in this country and the Conservative Party – indeed the right wing of the Conservative Party.
Black is a former media chief for the Conservative Party. He was named a Conservative peer in 2010. Like Faulks he frequently attends the Lords and unfailingly votes with the Conservatives. He is, in short, a deeply-embedded Conservative politician.
He is also deeply embedded in sham press regulation. He is an executive director at the Telegraph group. He was once director of the discredited Press Complaints Commission and later he was the powerful chair of PressBoF, the press committee that pulled the PCC’s strings.
When the Leveson Inquiry came along he prepared and presented the press response. (This included brazenly claiming that, despite the Tory profile of the PCC’s chairs, the politics of those appointed ‘had absolutely no role . . . whatsoever’.) There he unveiled his blueprint for IPSO, which Leveson rejected as inadequate and as far too similar to the failed PCC. After that Black led the operation to set up IPSO on his terms anyway, raising two fingers to Leveson, to Parliament and to public opinion.
And now, after a short absence, Black is back. He recently became vice chair of PressBoF’s successor, and there can be little doubt that, with his experience, he is once again pulling strings. And he knows Lord Faulks: they became Tory peers together in the 2010 intake and no doubt they rub shoulders in the corridors and the chamber.
For the record, under the Royal Charter that sets out the Leveson criteria for independence of press regulation – which was approved by all parties in Parliament in 2013 – Lord Faulks as a recently serving government minister could not be the chair of a properly recognised regulator. (See 5e, page 18.) As for Lord Black, he would not be allowed within a mile.
These are not pernickety requirements. They were laid down (again, with the approval of all parties) because it was at that time recognised that the outrages that precipitated the Leveson Inquiry revealed that politicians had got too close to the press. Even David Cameron admitted it. Some distance had to be maintained and for that rules were required.
It is by breaching and mocking these rules, with the eager assistance of a now- desperate Conservative party, that the corporate press enables itself to trash our civil society with lies and distortions, and to abuse minorities and ordinary citizens at will. And if you want a fresh, well-documented example of how that works, you might start here.
This post originally appeared on Byline.com and is reproduced with permission and thanks.