Today (8 September) sees the launch of a new regulator for the press as the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) replaces the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
The PCC, which was set up in 1990 after the perceived failure of its predecessor, the Press Council, was fatally wounded by its 2009 report to the News of the World phone-hacking affair, when it wrongly concluded there was no widespread invasion of privacy at the now defunct Sunday tabloid. When the scale of phone-hacking scandal became clear a committee of MPs described the regulator as "toothless" while Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "'inadequate' and 'absent'".
The launch of IPSO is not without its critics. The 2012 Leveson inquiry into press ethics recommended an end to self-regulation and the replacement of the PCC by a new organisation: “Independent of serving editors, government and business.” The bulk of the British press has rejected this, claiming that proposals to set up such a body based on a Royal charter amounted to “government control of the press.”
Who has joined?
Most of the main national newspaper groups have signed up to IPSO however the Guardian group has said that it will not sign-up, stating it would be regulating itself as "industry tentacles are reaching into the funding, control and constitutional arrangement of the new regulator."
The Independent and Evening Standard have still not announced a decision. Managing director of the Independent and London Evening Standard Andrew Mullin told The Drum that the publisher's relationship with IPSO was “not miles apart” and said the organisations are “trying to find a way to get closer”.
The Financial Times has said it is also setting up its own internal regulation system and Private Eye, which did not sign up to regulation by the PCC, has also refused to join.
What powers does it have?
IPSO has a complaints committee made up of 12 people:
Former editor of the Herald, Charles McGhee; former Emap CEO, Kevin Hand; former managing editor of the Sun, William Newman; former editor of the South Wales Echo, the Derby Telegraph and the Leicester Mercury, Keith Perch; former editor of the Independent and the Times, Charles Wilson; the vice chairman of the London School of Economics, Anne Lapping; former director general of Saga Group, Ros Altman; chair of the general consumer council for Northern Ireland, Rick Hill; IPSO chairman, Sir Alan Moses; co-founder of Innocent drinks, Richard Reed; the former UK Saudi Arabian UK ambassador, Tom Phillips; and Hanover Housing Associations CEO, Dam Clare Tickell.
To join IPSO, prospective members have to agree to sign a legally binding contract. The agreement commits members to abide by the editors code, comply with IPSO regulations and co-operate with any investigation carried out by the regulator. Those with complaints are required in the first instance to contact the publication concerned and only if no agreement has been reached will IPSO become involved. If the publisher is found to have breached the code in a “sufficiently serious” manner fines of up to £1m or one per cent of UK annual turnover can be imposed.
A number of organisations and individuals have attacked the new body for not being the independent regulator recommended by Lord Leveson. Press-reform campaign group “Hacked Off” has described the new body as “not independent and not effective” while Professor Roy Greenslade said IPSO was “just the PCC with extra bells and whistles.” There have also been questions about how much of a change the new regulator will represent as it will be based in the same office used by it’s predecessor and will keeping on many of the staff employed by the PCC. There have also been questions asked about the appointment of former Sun managing editor William Newman who was responsible for defending the paper’s controversial coverage of the Hillsborough disaster.
Perhaps mindful of the controversy over it’s birth, IPSO has kept its launch low key. The announcement that it was to begin work on the 8 September was made only last month via a short statement from the Newspaper Society and apart from briefings for a few selected journalists there are no media events planned to mark it beginning work. The history of press self-regulation in the UK has not been a happy one and there are still many who doubt is the new body marks a break or a continuation of the past. However as the Royal Charter proposed by Leveson appears dead in the water and rival regulator Impress has signed up only small, local publishers IPSO appears to be, for good or ill, the only game in town.