A spokesman for the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) described the number of complaints generated in the wake of the piece entitled ‘Rescue Boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants’ as “unusual,” with more than 100 objections received as of Monday afternoon.
“I can’t remember another issue that has generated so many complaints so quickly,” the spokesman told the Huffington Post UK.
And while Ipso, which in September replaced the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), tends not to deal with complaints from those not directly affected by stories, there could be exceptions in this case.
In respect to the Hopkins column in which she describes migrants as “cockroaches” and insists boats making their way from African should be turned back with force, the breach of two clauses from Ipso’s Editors’ Code of Practice could see complaints remaining valid.
Clause 1 iii) Accuracy:
The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 12 Discrimination
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
If these complaints are found to satisfy the clauses, the next step would be for Ipso to collate the complaints and present them to The Sun, giving the newspaper 28 days to respond.
In the meantime, a report will be prepared for the Ipso complaints committee which can insist that The Sun, which as its website states is “committed to abiding by the Ipso rules and regulations and the Editor’ Code of Practice that Ipso enforces” takes appropriate action regarding the matter (for example by issuing an apology or retraction).
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It comes as a petition calling for Hopkins to be sacked creeps closer to the target 200,000 signatures. [At time of publication almost 195,000 people had added their names.]
A spokesman for The Sun told HuffPost UK the newspaper would “not be commenting on an internet petition” and also refused to comment on the Ipso complaints.
At present Ipso is considering complaints brought about a column in the same newspaper by Rod Liddle. The columnist joked about Emily Brothers, Labour’s blind transgender parliamentary candidate for Sutton and Cheam, asking: “Being blind, how did she know she was the wrong sex?”
After the article triggered online outrage Liddle apologised to Brothers and even said he would vote for her if he lived in the constituency. But in a subsequent column, he said he'd decided he wouldn’t vote for her "even if she was standing against Nick Clegg, George Galloway and Michael Ole Ole Biscuit Barrel from the Silly Party".
Thousands have signed an online petition calling for a public apology, one of which, from Trans Media Watch, has been endorsed by Brothers.
Ipso faced its first major test in September when Conservative MP Mark Pritchard complained about the sting on Minister for Civil Society Brooks Newmark, who resigned after learning the person he sent a sexually explicit selfie to was a male journalist who had been posing on social media as "20-something Tory PR girl" Sophie Wittams.
The PCC, which had overseen the press for 20 years when it closed last year only had the power to investigate when a complaint was made and abandoned investigations if the complainant withdrew.
The Ipso code only permits the use of subterfuge to gain information if there it was done in the public interest and there was no other way of gaining it.
Despite having wider powers than the PCC which was roundly mocked as weak for its failure to investigate phone hacking, Ipso has been attacked by victims of the scandal as a "sham" and an attempt by the industry to continue to run its own affairs rather than submit to a royal charter.