THE BLOG

The Folly of the Newspapers' IPSO Scheme

06/12/2013 17:10 GMT | Updated 05/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Deaf to everyone else and in denial about their own disgraceful record, the people who run Britain's biggest newspaper groups are forging ahead with their 'IPSO' scheme to regulate their affairs on their own terms.

It can't be said often or plainly enough: hardly a soul outside their immediate circle agrees that this is the right way forward.

Indeed most people agree that IPSO would land us straight back where we were before the Leveson Inquiry - licensing papers to mistreat ordinary people and covering up their cruelty afterwards.

IPSO is designed by the press bosses - notably Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre - to operate outside the bounds of the Royal Charter of 30 October, which implements the recommendations of the Leveson Report.

So IPSO's backers want to defy the wishes of:

  • Lord Justice Leveson, after a year-long public inquiry

  • every party in Parliament (and they don't often all agree on anything)

  • the leading victims of press abuses

  • the National Union of Journalists

Whom do they have on their side? Each other. Truly, that is who they have consulted about IPSO - other newspaper managers and owners - and no one else. IPSO is a product of that bunker mentality.

Nor do they have any arguments left, because no one believes their blaring, evidence-free assertions that free expression is in danger, or that politicians are gagging the press. (In fact the Charter enhances press freedom while IPSO would place regulation at the mercy of politicians.)

What's wrong with IPSO? It is hard to know where to begin. Lord Justice Leveson declared that any self-regulatory system must be independent and effective, and IPSO is neither, as this study demonstrates. (So much for their preposterous claim that IPSO delivers what Leveson proposed.)

It will adopt the same approach to complaints from the public that was used by the discredited Press Complaints Commission (PCC) - even though Leveson's verdict on the PCC was: 'It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the self-regulatory system was run for the benefit of the press not of the public.'

IPSO purports to introduce a new, rigorous investigations system and tough, £1m fines, but these are shams. Under IPSO rules the investigations will be so hamstrung with conditions that it is unlikely any inquiry into a national newspaper will ever be completed - and without complete investigations there can be no fines.

Although Leveson said there should be a cheap, impartial and quick arbitration system for people who believe that papers have breached their legal rights, IPSO makes this only conditional and partial - handing papers the option of refusing cheap arbitration to people they know can't afford to go to court.

Above all, IPSO is not independent. Exactly like the PCC, it is the toothless poodle of Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, the Barclay brothers and others who own the really big newspaper groups. They hold the leash when it comes to money, appointments, the rule book, the code of standards and much more.

Can it work? No. Because it is so like the PCC and because the PCC was found out - at the cost of considerable misery to large numbers of people - IPSO is doomed to fail. And we should not make the mistake of believing that there is nothing to stop the big companies doing what they want.

First, because public opinion will not wear it. The polls show that large majorities, even among the readers of the Daily Mail, the Times and the Telegraph, reject the idea of the press regulating itself on its own terms. By setting up IPSO, in other words, the managements of these newspaper companies expose their own isolation and denial even more brazenly than before.

What is more, even a small minority of principled publishers can trip them up. Given the business advantages of belonging to a self-regulator that meets the standards of independence and effectiveness set out in the Royal Charter, it is inevitable that one will come into existence in the next few months, in time for to be 'recognised' by the new Charter auditing body.

And once that happens, those outside will find themselves at a painful commercial disadvantage to those inside, paying far higher legal costs when they are sued. Lord Justice Leveson foresaw that papers would resist change and this was the means by which he intended to persuade them. Let us see how long they resist.