The Mail had an important announcement to make at the weekend, and it was all about a new Independent press regulator. Moreover, it was a regulator that was to be established in line with what were claimed to be the “Leveson principles”. The article was even adorned with a photo of Lord Justice Leveson to illustrate the point. But observers of this process were already on their guard.
“Tough new Press watchdog set up in wake of Leveson Inquiry prepares for launch within months ... Independent Press Standards Organisation is set to launch early next year ... New watchdog will have the power to impose tough fines up to £1million” claimed Michael Seamark’s article. So what is the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)? And what are the “Leveson Principles”?
Well, taking the second part first, as you do, there aren’t any “Leveson Principles”. However, Leveson did make 47 recommendations referring to press self-regulation, which were incorporated, with some changes to address the concerns of the press, into the Royal Charter which was voted through by both Houses of Parliament earlier this year (not the one the press submitted later).
If a self-regulator is to comply with those recommendations, it has to meet the criteria in Schedule 3 of that Charter. If it does that, it’s OK. And if it doesn’t, then it isn’t. Guess which side of that line IPSO falls on: yes, it doesn’t meet the Schedule 3 criteria, it isn’t compliant with the Royal Charter passed by Parliament, and part of the failure is because it is not properly independent.
Nor does IPSO have the power to effectively investigate newspapers, and so the farce of Phonehackgate, where the PCC was effectively absent from the battle, could, and probably would, happen all over again. The Guardian has already called out the new scheme, saying “the proposed funding method threatens its independence and that the biggest national newspapers will call the shots”.
That sounds rather like the situation with the PCC, where the key movers were led by the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, to whom genuinely independent regulation – along with the possibility that he might be compelled to put corrections on the front page, a part of the paper that he regards as sacrosanct – is anathema. IPSO would be another example of the press “marking its own homework”.
So it was no surprise to see that Hacked Off got wind of the publicity push for IPSO, getting its own warning out there yesterday. The Royal Charter that underpins IPSO has merely been considered, and the one that really matters is yet to go before the Privy Council. IPSO is a distraction, a sign that the larger part of the Fourth Estate is going to do a lot of kicking and screaming before it yields.
So there’ll be more misleading rubbish like the Mail piece. No change there, then.