IPSO caught with its pants down

JVL Introduction

In this blog reposted from Hacked Off, Brian Cathcart takes the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) to task.

IPSO is the organisation that the corporate press, the government and their friends present to the public as an effective guardian of standards.

It is simply not up to it and Cathcart does not pull his punches: calling IPSO the “sham press ‘regulator’”, he exposes its weakness and cowardice, exemplified in its dealings with the Jewish Chronicle.

IPSO’s standards department was alerted to the problems at the Jewish Chronicle as long ago as November 2019, by IPSO’s own complaints committee!

It seems to have done little or had little effect. Since then, there have been since there have been 14 more code breaches and three more libel settlements…

It is, as Cathcart relates here, a sordid record.

This article was originally published by Hacked Off on Tue 17 Aug 2021. Read the original here.

IPSO caught with its pants down

The sham press ‘regulator’ IPSO has seen its weakness and cowardice embarrassingly exposed this month in the case of the serial misconduct of the Jewish Chronicle.

Although IPSO claims it constantly monitors the conduct of its member publications, it was clearly taken aback by a joint public letter from nine successful complainants detailing the collapse ostandards at the London-based paper.

The letter pointed to at least 28 code breaches* and four libel settlements in three years – an off-the-scale offence rate for a small weekly publication – and it asked IPSO, which had shown no sign of acting on its own account, to launch a formal standards investigation.

Caught on the back foot, IPSO has written back to Jo Bird, one of the complainants, asking for more time and promising a response from the IPSO chair, Lord Faulks, ‘in due course’.

But IPSO should not need more time, because it has emerged that its standards department was alerted to the problems at the Jewish Chronicle as long ago as November 2019 – by IPSO’s own complaints committee.  At that stage there had been 17 recorded breaches of the Editors’ Code in just over a year, and the paper had also been forced to settle one libel case.

It is not clear what if anything the standards department did at that stage, but since there have been 14 more code breaches and three more libel settlements since that date it is safe to say that even if it did something the ‘toughest regulator in the western world’ made no difference at all.

Worse, IPSO has had to admit a complete failure to act on a further reminder from a successful complainant, Audrey White, in July last year. They have had to apologise to White, saying that the relevant official had left IPSO and ‘the correspondence was unfortunately dropped’.

So, to get the chronology clear:

November 2019: In its ruling on the Audrey White case IPSO’s complaints committee  notes ‘unacceptable’ conduct by the Jewish Chronicle and states: ‘The committee’s concerns have been drawn to the attention of IPSO’s standards department.’ By this date IPSO has found the weekly paper guilty of 17 code breaches and there has been one libel.

July 2020: Nine months later, in the absence of any public sign of action, Audrey White writes asking what IPSO’s standards department has done in response to that formal November notification. She receives no reply.

August 2021: A year on, with the Jewish Chronicle’s score of offences now standing at 31 code breaches* and four libel settlements, nine of those falsely accused publicly demand a formal standards investigation. IPSO replies that it will get back ‘in due course’.

IPSO has claimed, in correspondence this month with Jo Bird, that it has ‘engaged with’ the Jewish Chronicle. It didn’t say when this occurred or what form it took, nor did it admit what is obvious: there has been no visible effect.

IPSO has also stated, in a comment to the news website The Canary, that it  ‘recently delivered training on Editors’ Code compliance to staff at the Jewish Chronicle, a service which is available to all regulated publishers’.

Note that this training was ‘recent’, and not, for example, in or soon after November 2019. Note also that it is ‘available to all’, in other words it is explicitly a normal IPSO service and not a special disciplinary or remedial action against the Jewish Chronicle.

IPSO also told The Canary: ‘We aim to take action to address issues of concern in a proportionate way, ideally at an early stage.’ If anything at all was done it was obviously neither proportionate nor early.

Thus, before it even decides whether it will conduct what would be its first ever standards investigation into the Jewish Chronicle, and after having to be publicly shamed into even considering such action, IPSO already stands convicted of a long-term failure to tackle an obvious collapse of standards at a member organisation.

And bear in mind that this is harmful. If IPSO had taken firm action in November 2019 it might have prevented the publication of damaging falsehoods about at least eight people, and it might have spared the readers of the Jewish Chronicle from being serially misled.

IPSO is the organisation that the corporate press, the government and their friends present to the public as an effective guardian of standards, yet no matter what way you look at it – the crazy rulings, the blind eye to racism, the corporate influence, the political entanglement or, as here, the extreme reluctance to take any form of action – it is simply a sham.

Brian Cathcart is Professor of Journalism at Kingston University.

* My count is 31 code breaches. It is characteristic of IPSO that, although its mission is supposedly to uphold the Editor’s Code, its rulings do not clearly state how many times the code has been breached. The casual form in which breaches are identified is bound to cause confusion.

Comments (7)

  • Mary Davies says:

    IPSO – a waste of space!

  • This article is published by the Hacked Off Campaign, of which Brian Cathcart was the first Executive Director. Over the years they have done heroic work campaigning for independent regulation of the press, and exposing IPSO (the press-owned regulator) as a sham.

    However, I was less impressed by another recent Hacked Off article where it contrasts Ofcom (the broadcasting regulator) to IPSO, saying that Ofcom “isn’t perfect, but it is a competent and independent regulatory body”. It would be difficult to be worse than IPSO, but Ofcom doesn’t deserve such a positive assessment. As JVL members are well aware, it failed to hold the BBC accountable for the execrable BBC Panorama documentary “Is Labour anti-Semitic?” which, given the date on which it was broadcast (July 15th, 2019 ), may have influenced voting in the General Election. With good reason, the Media Reform Coalition described it as “a catalogue of reporting failures” both with regard to accuracy and impartiality. So I would like to see Hacked Off focus more attention on one of the leading failures of our mainstream media, i.e. the way it reports Israel, Palestine, so-called antisemitism and the witch-hunts currently going on in the Labour Party.

  • Rosie Brocklehurst says:

    I completely agree with Brian. To answer Mary Davies- if you can use IPSO to your own advantage then do it. Most complaints that are upheld do not make headlines. It can be a hard slog. But you can turn it to advantage if you know what you are doing. I took the Sun to IPSO over a front page splash on Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and won a front page apology -at that time the first in the Sun’s history. I PR’d it myself when the IPSO PR people were going to bury it, by giving an exclusive to a major national and others then picked it up. The only poor response was from Corbyn and his office who were sent the story in advance but did not even bother to recognise the value nor the effort -because at that point in their learning, of what it is like in the UK to lead from the left, perhaps thought they were above all that. While I know only too well what they were up against, they were naive and seemed ill -skilled at PR dark arts, in my view, a purist’s dereliction of socialist ambition. Of course as John Booth has so well highlighted elsewhere in his review of Owen Jones book and its complete misunderstanding of the weaponisation of antisemitism, the Reut (Institute) Template on how to delegitimise those deemed to be against Israel’s interests, uses a range of methods. By dropping a cartload of antisemitism accusations on the
    left, they created ideological shock and awe. The Guardian , one of the worst offenders in Corbyn attacks, has not woken to the fact that it was played, albeit, in parts, willingly. Apart from the perpetrators (Hodge, Ryan, Smeeth, Berger, Austin etc.,) those who were targets were caught in a net cast by master strategists to eradicate all opposition. No one in Corbyn’s office would escape ‘alive’. Resistance came late. Corbyn’s people even went to IPSO themselves in the end, three years after ignoring the Sun apology. There is a train of thought which says that by engaging with the IPSO process we legitimise them. But they are legitimised by others anyway, for endless media complaints that rarely make headlines. Those who take politics seriously must use all the means of resistance and defence they can. It might even be worth it.

  • Rosemary Bechler says:

    Congratulations for this research Brian Cathcart. It’s important work.

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    Jonathan Coulter is absolutely right with regard to the BBC. The strategy of the corporation in response to individual complaints by members of the public is to wear them down. One tactical move within this approach is to ask the complainant whether he or she thought the broadcast objected to was part of a pattern. Then they ask you to prove it – giving dates and quotes. As if you sit listening to the Today programme, for example, pen in hand recording interviews and drawing up a chronicle of offences.
    When I referred to such an interview a couple of years before in support of my contention, giving the date within a couple of days, I was asked to be more specific and told that the BBC had no way of referencing my claim.
    All total hogwash designed to grind the complainant down.

  • Dr Agnes Kory says:

    In defence of the Jewish Chronicle, they are inaccurate in non-political topics too.
    Their editor Stephen Pollard fancies himself as an expert on music and appointed himself to be the opera critic of the Jewish Chronicle. He gets plush free seats for Royal Opera House performances and perhaps even a fee from the Jewish Chronicle. What he does not get is sufficient understanding of what he sees/hears.

  • John Bowley says:

    The English establishment media is the worst in the world and this is inclusive of nearly all newspapers, including the Guardian, and television and radio, including the BBC. The establishment media slants what is going on and tells us whoppers regularly. Self regulation means no regulation, of course.

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