IPSO’s Chairman is apparently surprised, in an interview published yesterday in The Times, that Harry and Meghan have chosen to pursue their concerns about press illegality and unethical conduct through the courts rather than through IPSO.
What could it be about a complaints-handler whose rules are controlled by newspaper executives, whose standards are written by newspaper editors, and which has failed to impose a single fine on a newspaper since it was first set-up six years ago, that left Harry and Meghan feeling they would be better off going to court?
Perhaps because, on average, IPSO takes around 100 days even to process a complaint. Perhaps because the burden of investigating, researching and verifying code breaches in the offending article is placed on the complainant. Or perhaps because, after months of delay and lengthy correspondence, in the rare cases that IPSO sides with the complainant any remedy is woefully inadequate.
Why on earth anyone would anyone put themselves through such an arduous process only for IPSO to require a footnote, buried deep inside a newspaper, which “clarifies” that a frontpage splash published months ago was materially wrong?
Ironically, and predictably, the Times’ self-serving interview is itself inaccurate in several respects. It opens with distortion:
“Lord Faulks, QC, took over the independent press complaints body, which regulates more than 90 per cent of the UK’s print media, in January”.
IPSO is not independent. The standards it claims to enforce are dictated by newspaper editors, and its rules are at the discretion of a committee of newspaper executives.
IPSO also does not regulate “more than 90 per cent of the UK’s print media”. Beyond the national and local titles owned by a handful of wealthy corporations there are hundreds of independent publishers throughout the UK which have never been properly counted.
As he questions why Harry and Meghan did not approach IPSO for help, Faulks comments:
“The royal family has regularly used us and are very much aware of what we can and cannot do. But we don’t preclude people from using a lawyer in a conventional way.”
But IPSO’s own website states “We do not ordinarily consider complaints if the parties are engaged in active legal correspondence…”.
The Times refers, at this point, to the IPSO arbitration service and reports that its fees are “low”. In fact, its fees – for both publisher and defendant – are in many cases higher than those of Leveson-compliant regulator IMPRESS’.
More importantly, IPSO’s arbitration system is optional for publishers and is so riddled with pro-press bias and other deficiencies that not a single claimant has ever used it.
Faulks claims that complaints are well dealt with, without applying any journalistic scrutiny. No complainants are asked. No advocacy groups, representing people affected by press reporting, are cited. Instead, Faulks simply asserts that the complaints system devised by the press is working.
He defends the complaints-handler’s failure to award any fines in over six years of operation by commenting that “in some ways I’d like to – it would show we’re not afraid…”.
Years of repeated inaccuracies about the European Union and wave upon wave of abusive or false stories about Muslims, immigrants or refugees have all provided compelling grounds for investigations. The truth is that IPSO simply does not have the power or inclination to initiate one.
In yet another irony, Faulks complains that social media is a “huge problem” because it remains unregulated and because it is neither edited nor curated. And yet, he effectively admits that his own “regulator” has never actually undertaken any regulatory action!
In any case, IPSO is responsible for the social media sections of newspapers – comment sections – but has done nothing to stem the tide of fake news and racist abuse frequently found in them. At the same time, the corporate press pleads for an exemption from government plans to regulate social media.
This is an interview which tells you everything you need to know about how press regulation works in the UK. Lord Faulks, Chairman of the body apparently regulating the press, is given hundreds of words in an IPSO-member publisher to make evidence-free and unchallenged claims about IPSO’s reported successes while actual complainants are not even invited to comment.
When the puppet-master provides a free platform for such blatant industry propaganda, it’s hardly surprising that Harry and Meghan have decided to ignore the industry’s puppet.
This post originally appeared on the Hacked Off blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.