What will it take for IPSO to launch a standards investigation?
Updated: Jan 17
The Leveson Inquiry
This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the Leveson Inquiry, which was tasked with reviewing the practices and ethics of the press after the phone hacking scandal. It found the existing regulatory body the Press Complaints Commission insufficient and called for a “genuinely independent and effective system of self-regulation”. Leveson’s proposed reforms were backed by the UK’s main political parties, and 177,00 people signed a petition from Hacked Off, calling for their immediate implementation. One of the central proposals from the inquiry was that there should be a statutory body to oversee the new regulator, but David Cameron refused to legislate on the grounds that it would ‘threaten free speech and a free press’ (or more likely, in order to embolden press power and its billionaire owners).
Nearly a decade after Leveson, no national press have signed up to a formally recognised independent regulator that adheres to the recommendations made by Part One of the Leveson Inquiry. Instead, they enacted the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) in place of the PCC, which was called a "pointless so-called regulator” by the National Union of Journalists and a “sham” by Hacked Off. It is owned by the same publishers it has been tasked with regulating and according to The Media Standards Trust fails to satisfy 25 of Leveson’s 38 recommendations.
The only discernible difference between IPSO and the PCC is the supposed additional powers that it holds, such as its ability to instigate inquiries without prior complaint, launch standards investigations and issue fines of up to £1m. At the time of its creation, The Guardian referred to it as “the PCC with extra bells and whistles”, but so far we haven’t heard a peep. IPSO has 'yet to launch an investigation or issue a single fine since its inception seven years ago’.
In that period Hacked Off reports that “newspapers published more than 50 distortive or inaccurate stories about COVID”, they undermined the fight against climate change, they misled the public on Brexit, ran a smear campaign against a democratically elected Labour leader, hounded Caroline Flack and have continued to libel ordinary people much in the same way the Leveson report noted that for decades the national press "wreaked havoc in the lives of innocent people”.
The Daily Mail has continued to libel ordinary people - they have published career-shattering allegations and ran an article that breached Clause 4 of the Editors' Code, which covers ‘Intrusion into Grief’. In an article originally published to the Working Mums website and posted here by Hacked Off, Mandy Garner describes the impact that the Daily Mail’s reporting had on her family after the death of her daughter:
“The Daily Mail published the CCTV footage of my daughter’s last moments the morning after her death with a lurid clickbait headline – just as we were trying to explain to our other children what had happened… Several months later IPSO ruled that it was not a breach of their code. One of the reasons given was that you couldn’t make out my daughter’s face because the footage was ‘grainy’. The video was embedded in a story about her death. Three of my brothers saw it. They knew exactly who it was. “
“Clearly, it was a breach. If it wasn’t, what actually would constitute a breach?” Questions like this one continue to be raised about IPSO and its lack of action towards blatant breaches of its own Code of Conduct.
A campaign of hatred against British Muslims, which far predates Leveson, has also continued unabated. A recent report by the Muslim Council of Britain found that of 11,000 articles and broadcasts covering a three month period which featured Muslims, 59% had negative themes and this statistic rose to 79% when it came to the Mail on Sunday’s coverage.
During the period 2019-21, The Times and The Sunday Times has on four occasions received more than 100 complaints to IPSO over breaches of Clause 12 of the Editors code, which covers discrimination. Hacked Off have identified “four times in just 17 months in 2019-21, where The Times was forced to admit libel and pay damages and in all four cases the subjects of the false allegations were Muslim, which it says makes a “compelling case for an IPSO standards investigation.”
Will IPSO ever launch a standards investigation?
One of the conditions upon which IPSO may launch a standards investigation is when there have been "serious and systemic breaches of the Editors’ Code”. IPSO’s refusal to take meaningful action against publishers that systematically break the Editors’ Code of Conduct, has become such a cop out that it recently revealed it would not investigate The Jewish Chronicle, in spite of breaking the Editors’ Code 33 times, and admitting to libelling innocent members of the public on four different occasions.
It has unscrupulously attacked left-wing Labour members, libelled a Palestinian charity that provides relief and development aid, through false allegations that they had ties to a terrorist group and it published defamatory articles about prominent civil rights campaigner and journalist Marc Wadsworth - claiming he was involved in a plot to uncover the private addresses of Jewish Labour activists to threaten and intimidate them into silence (according to Wadsworth, The Jewish Chronicle has had to correct the record or retract an article about him 15 times in 5 years).
Brian Cathcart from Hacked Off has said:
“For most of the past three years the Jewish Chronicle has breached either the law or the Editors’ Code of Practice roughly once in every four editions it has published, and it has done so despite having a stack of adverse rulings from IPSO and despite having to pay damages for successive libels… If ever a company was crying out for investigation by its regulator this is surely it, yet IPSO only began to show signs of concern last month after nine of the paper’s victims published a joint letter of protest.”
In a letter to Lord Faulks, IPSO’s current chairman, nine of those who were the subject of misreporting by The Jewish Chronicle said: “IPSO’s regulations say a Standards Investigation can take place where there is evidence of ‘serious and systemic breaches of the code’. The seriousness of the breaches by The Jewish Chronicle is attested to in IPSO’s own rulings while the sheer number of breaches and libel defeats – taking place at a small publication that appears only weekly – proves the problem is systemic.”
IPSO has decided that it would be a proportionate response to provide code compliance ‘training’ to the editorial staff at The Jewish Chronicle, which asserts the notion that its fall in standards is down to a lack of due diligence and becomes all the more inadequate when considering that this training is supposedly routine for IPSO members. Lord Faulks has now said that IPSO has “decided to conduct a review in six months to assess whether the training and other changes have been embedded in the Jewish Chronicle’s editorial practices and whether any further action on IPSO’s part is required.”
By refusing to launch a standards investigation, IPSO has effectively green lit the litany of misinformation published by The Jewish Chronicle as an acceptable standard of error for the thousands of other publications that it regulates. Given that IPSO’s board is comprised of retired members of the same newspapers that have signed up to it, it would be completely against their own interests to pursue an investigation and would set a precedent that would ultimately place the standards of their respective publications under scrutiny. And therein lies the problem - the point at which a decision to launch an investigation is taken will set the standard for all other publications to follow and this bar has been raised time and time again.
The Telegraph, which has its own catalogue of pseudo-scientific misinformation on Covid and climate science that IPSO has failed to address, has attempted to to dismiss the signatories as ‘politically motivated’, placing blame on IPSO for ruling against The Jewish Chronicle and appearing to vindicate their defamatory journalism in essence because ‘Corbyn supporters are fair game’.
The article reads:
“At first glance, they appear to have little in common: a soap star, an author, a carer, a black rights campaigner, a Muslim convert. What they share is that all of them claim to be “victims” of the world’s oldest Jewish newspaper, The Jewish Chronicle, which has been at the forefront of exposing anti-Semitism within the Labour Party…. Most of them also happen to be politically aligned with Jeremy Corbyn.”
They attempt to draw the conclusion that this provides evidence of a conspiracy by scorned ex-Labour members, rather than being a co-ordinated attempt to smear the left-wing faction of the Labour Party, despite also acknowledging that “all of them had complaints about The Jewish Chronicle upheld, and in three cases The Jewish Chronicle paid out damages for libel.” It’s an an interesting tactic - smear a group of ‘Corbyn supporters' and then accuse them of being political.
The article even states: “There is no suggestion that the nine people who signed the letter to Lord Faulks… are in any way vexatious,” but not before rambling on about the decline of local news, positioning it as part of a wider-problem with claimants attempting to ‘bombard IPSO’ and outright implying that the complainants are… “vexatious”, which just goes to show that The Telegraph are completely disingenuous in their argument.
This is a clear case of the press defending the press. IPSO doesn’t exist to hold anyone to account or to protect innocent people, they exist to protect the interests of the national press, with which they are one and the same.