UK: Independent Press Standards Organisation ("IPSO"): The New Press Regulator

Last Updated: 15 September 2014
Article by Natasha Brierley

IPSO, set up by the press in the wake of the phone hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry, replaces the Press Complaints Commission ("PCC") as the new press regulator from today.

It was clear that the PCC could not survive as the regulator of the British press following the complaints made against it and the criticism it received during the Leveson Inquiry.

IPSO is the new body set up by the press to regulate itself and is supported by the majority of national publications (although notably not the Guardian, the Independent Groups and the Financial Times). Its critics, and those publications who are waiting to see how IPSO performs before signing up to it, will be watching closely to see whether IPSO represents real reform of press regulation – or not much more than a rebrand.

An independent system of self-regulation?

IPSO's supporters maintain it is a truly independent self regulator which meets the standards required by Lord Justice Leveson and satisfies all the key elements called for in his report. The key features of IPSO, said to distinguish it from the PCC (which, it is now widely acknowledged, was more of a complaints conciliator than a regulator), include the following:

Complaints handling

IPSO will consider complaints that a publication has acted in breach of the Editors' Code. Complainants are not restricted to those directly affected: third parties seeking to correct significant reporting inaccuracies may also complain. Having reported a complaint to IPSO, parties are expected in the first instance to raise the issue directly with the publication concerned. If the parties cannot resolve the matter themselves within 28 days, IPSO will facilitate mediation. IPSO can only be asked to adjudicate in the event that the complaint is not resolved by mediation.

Power to impose sanctions

Unlike the PCC, following an adjudication IPSO has the power to impose sanctions, including the imposition of a fine of up to £1m. The offending publication will also be required to publish a correction and / or the adjudication.

Provision of guidance

IPSO is to provide confidential and non-binding guidance on matters relating to the Editors' Code, including public interest considerations.

Whistleblowing hotline and protection for journalists

IPSO has committed to providing a confidential whistleblowing hotline for journalists who have been requested by a regulated entity to act in a manner contrary to the Editors' Code. Provision has been made to protect journalists concerned about their employment: regulated entities may not take disciplinary action against employees making use of the hotline or refusing to act in a manner they believe to be contrary to the Editors' Code.

No significant change?

IPSO will be chaired by the former Court of Appeal judge, Sir Alan Moses, who has stated publicly that he recognises the magnitude of the task that lies ahead. Convincing the public and the victims of press intrusion that IPSO represents a regulator truly independent of those it regulates will not be easy, and much criticism has already been levelled at the Regulatory Funding Committee ("RFC") which will provide the finance for IPSO but which also has been given significant veto powers as well as influence over appointments and investigations.

Critics of IPSO further argue that in providing a complaints handling procedure predicated on mediation, IPSO represents no significant departure from the previous process operated by the PCC:

  • Lord Justice Leveson was clear that the new regulator should have an effective regulatory and enforcement role, with improved systems and measures for recording breaches of the Editors' Code. However, much of what IPSO will provide is akin to an appeal procedure, limited to reviewing those complaints not resolved to the complainant's satisfaction by the publication's internal procedures.
  • The provision of a free arbitration service was one of the central Leveson recommendations, aimed at ensuring cost effective and swift access to justice for members of the public and victims of press intrusion. Although IPSO includes provision for an arbitration service, participation is optional for each publisher and the scheme will be launched only after a consultation and pilot process and if agreed by the RFC.
  • The IPSO board has no pre-publication powers, although it is charged with providing non-binding guidance on interpretation of the Editors' Code. It remains to be seen in practice whether IPSO will be willing (as to its credit the PCC was) to take up with publishers pre-publication complaints.
  • Crucially, IPSO has stated that it will not seek recognition from the independent panel established by Royal Charter, which had the support not only of all three main Westminster parties, but also a majority of the public. This may do harm to the repair of the public's confidence in the ability of the press to regulate itself effectively, even with a tough top former judge at the helm.

Conclusion

IPSO has the support of the majority of Britain's national daily papers – and, now launched, the added advantage of being able to label as refuseniks those publications who have not yet signed up. However, in the absence of any Leveson-compliant selfregulator (the proposed alternative regulator 'Impress' has not yet launched and has received little publicity), IPSO is a welcome preference to the alternative – a public perception of no press regulation at all.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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