IPSO? F*ck no! The UK's biggest press regulator is so toothless it needs its food mashed up

.. and the proof is in its own figures.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which was born of the half-hearted response to the Leveson Inquiry, released its figures for Editors’ Code breaches in 2019 at the end of last week and — shock horror! — it only upheld a handful of complaints against newspapers which have the same approach to ethical standards as Godzilla does to city planning.

ISPO found that The Daily Express website and The Times newspaper were the naughtiest children in the Fleet Street playground with both titles breaching editorial standards four times in 2019. As someone who reads several newspapers per day, with The Times featuring frequently, I could find 4 breaches of the Editors’ Code every day, let alone across 12 months of lying, spinning, and dissembling.

Reach — the publisher of The Daily Mirror, Daily Express, and Daily Star — is the largest commercial publisher in the UK. It had the most public complaints upheld against it (19), and The Times and Sun’s publisher, News UK, came in a dishonourable 2nd (13).

The combination of The Times newspaper, Times website, and The Sunday Times was found to be most in breach among the News UK titles (7 times) with The Sun clocking up 5 breaches of the standards as outlined by IPSO. MailOnline was investigated 30 times by IPSO but was only found to be in breach once. If you throw The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday print titles into the mix the number of complaints rises to 53 with 3 breaches determined by IPSO.

In total, IPSO upheld 55 complaints in 2019, out of 621 complaints investigated as potential breaches of the Editors’ Code. 207 were ‘resolved’ between original complainants and the publisher. Unsurprisingly IPSO says it has received a record number of complaints in 2020. Just don’t expect it to actually accept a record number of them in due turn.

Bigging herself and her toothless, preposterous, and supine organisation up, ISPO chief executive Charlotte Dewar said research by the regulator reveals the time taken by newspapers to correct inaccuracies — I’d say ‘lies’ — has fallen from a median of 6 days to 3 days since IPSO was spun up 5 years ago. I’m sure that’s tremendously comforting for the depressingly large number of people who have themselves traduced in the British press on a daily basis.

Dewar also claims that 90% of corrections published by papers and news websites were on a more prominent page than the original article. My magnifying glass and I disagree. Most ‘Clarifications & Corrections’ columns remain as easily discernible as a micro-dot created for James Bond by an aggrieved Q which, upon closer inspection, reads GO FUCK YOURSELF.

On the eve of the 2019 General Election, The Guardian’s George Monbiot broke an embargo on an IPSO adjudication to illustrate just how poor the regulator is and continues to be. The subjects of that adjudication were a number of stories published by the Mail on Sunday and other right-wing papers regarding a report that Monbiot had helped write for the Labour Party.

IPSO ruled that the newspapers had lied and distorted the contents of the report but The Mail on Sunday appealed and that meant that the regulator’s decision was delayed. And then… the review upheld the decision but it was not published.

The lie remained in the public domain, uncorrected until Monbiot broke the farcical embargo imposed by IPSO.

Monbiot wrote:

One of the authors of our report, Anna Powell-Smith, made a complaint to Ipso. Had she not been determined, she might have been defeated by a process that seems designed to deter. For much of the five months this has taken to resolve, the newspaper, with its vastly greater resources, was allowed to bombard her with Johnsonian arguments or offer tiny clarifications on a remote page. It was time-consuming and intimidating. Most people are likely to have given up or accepted a meaningless concession. Watching this process, I came to the conclusion that Ipso is not fit for purpose.

Even so, it eventually bowed to the inevitable. This is a rare victory against the billionaire press, but it would count for nothing if buried until the election is over. Anyone who wants a better world finds themselves at war with the exceedingly rich people who own the media and the editors and journalists they employ. The pen might be mightier than the sword, but the wallet is mightier than the pen. News is the propaganda of the oligarch. Are we prepared to allow the proprietors of the newspapers, many of whom live offshore, to determine the course of our politics?

The problem is that IPSO was built by the newspapers and its management is stuffed with people who worked within the media organisations it is meant to regulate. Of course, poacher-turned-gamekeeper transformations are possible, but it’s clear that IPSO needs more people who can actually stand behind the first part of its name — independent. ISPO is funded by publishers through an arms-length set up called the Regulatory Funding Company, but its directors are all industry insiders. Additionally, the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee — which rules on breaches of the Editors’ Code — is stuffed with representatives of the big publishers and was, for 8 years, chaired by Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of the Mail group.

IPSO chief executive, Charlotte Dewar started her career as an Editorial Assistant at The Guardian in 2010 before moving to IPSO’s predecessor the Press Complaints Commission — also the alma mater of Stig ‘should be in the dump’ Abell — where she remained before it was shit-canned and she jumped onto the IPSO life raft. She has been Chief Executive since August 2020, having been in the post in an acting capacity since February.

The chairperson of ISPO is Lord (Edward) Faulks who followed a long career as a barrister, where he focused on Human Rights Act claims, professional and clinical negligence, and public law, with a stint as Justice Minister under David Cameron. To keep up appearances, Faulks no longer takes the Conservative whip and sits in the House of Lords as an unaffiliated peer. I’m sure wearing a different hat has entirely stripped him of his Tory friendships, feelings, and views.

I have had occasion to deal with IPSO three or four times and it’s clear to me why they handle so few complaints and adjudicate in favour of complainants so rarely. IPSO is not a machine for delivering justice, it is a roach motel for complaints; it is the place where complaints and clarifications about newspapers go to die. ISPO is a fig leaf that barely covers the big disgusting balls of the British media. Not my words, the words of Des Lynham… no, just kidding. They are my words but they are bolstered by the figures that IPSO so proudly published.

Having IPSO regulate the press is like trusting Elmer Fudd to manage hunting permit and Bugs Bunny chair the government inquiry into carrot thefts.