A dose of reality about IPSO for Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock, the Culture Secretary, is an outspoken fan of IPSO, the sham ‘regulator’ operated by the government’s allies in the corporate press.

In recent speeches he has assured us that IPSO is ‘an effective self-regulator’ (15 May 2018) offering ‘proper redress’ (7 March 2018), and that is ‘a robust mechanism to address disinformation’ (12 March 2018). He also quotes with approval a finding by a former senior civil servant that IPSO ‘largely complied with Sir Brian [Leveson]’s recommendations’ (15 May 2018)

Hancock may not have been a Cabinet minister for very long but we have already learned that he has a Trump-like disregard for truth.* His views on IPSO conform perfectly to pattern – and in case anyone was in any doubt there is authoritative new evidence to prove it.

For the first time, the official body charged with judging the adequacy of press regulators has offered an opinion on IPSO, and that opinion is damning. Far from ‘largely complying’ with the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, in fact, IPSO fails to comply in almost every important respect.

This verdict comes from the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), the wholly-independent body set up by Parliament in 2013 (with overwhelming cross-party approval) to judge whether regulators of news publishing meet the 29 criteria the inquiry report set out for satisfactory regulation. The criteria are incorporated in the Royal Charter on press self-regulation.

(To be clear: this is not a formal finding by the PRP board, as would be required if IPSO was seeking recognition as valid regulator – IPSO has never attempted that. It is an assessment by the PRP executive.)

The PRP declares, in the plainest terms possible: ‘Even a cursory consideration of IPSO’s present arrangements shows that it does not meet the requirements of the Charter’.

It goes on to fail IPSO on a series of vitally-important counts: arbitration (‘not currently compliant’), independence (‘insufficient information’), funding (‘criterion not currently met’), powers (‘criterion not currently met’) and sanctions (‘criteria not currently met’).

Again and again IPSO is found not to have made public sufficient information about its operations – a want of transparency that is itself revealing. Even its vaunted (but disastrous) complaints system is opaque:

‘The Charter sets out clear requirements for a regulator’s complaints procedures. There is not currently enough information available to enable the PRP to assess the effectiveness and credibility of IPSO’s systems.’

Why has IPSO failed to mount a single investigation in nearly four years of operation? The PRP confirms that this is no accident:

‘The Charter requires an approved regulator to have the ability to conduct investigations on its own initiative if there is evidence of serious or systemic breaches of its standards code. . . According to published information, IPSO can only initiate investigations if there is evidence of serious and systemic breaches of its standards code. The minimum requirement for public protection is not currently met.’

IPSO has not managed to secure a single front-page apology in a national paper, or a proper correction, even where the code breach was the front-page lead. Again the PRP puts its finger in the problem:

‘In relation to complaints, a regulator should have the power to direct appropriate remedial action for breach of standards and the publication of corrections and apologies. In addition, the power to direct the nature, extent and placement of apologies should lie with the board. Based on the information available to us, these criteria are not currently met.’

There is nowhere for Matt Hancock to hide on this. By the best objective standards that we have (as opposed to the partisan views of editors and politicians) IPSO is not ‘effective’ or ‘robust’ and it does not offer ‘proper redress’. The PRP sees what the public sees: a sham.

All of which, incidentally, casts an even starker light on an extraordinary act of hypocrisy by the corporate papers. They are going to court – for the second time – to challenge the PRP’s finding that Impress meets the 29 Charter criteria.

Let’s put that another way: they refuse to play by any rules themselves, but they are prepared to go to desperate extremes (this is an appeal against a High Court decision they lost hands-down) in the effort to show that others have broken the rules.

And this costs a lot of money. You have to wonder how Matt Hancock reconciles such profligate expenditure on lawyers with his suggestion that the corporate press may need subsidies from the taxpayer to survive. 

• Hancock and the truth: he claimed support for his views from Sir Brian Leveson even though the judge, in writing, had ‘fundamentally disagreed’. He said a majority of respondents to a public consultation said one thing when in fact the majority said the opposite. He claimed to have evidence to support his view on legal risks to newspapers but subsequently had to admit to MPs he had none. And so on.

This article is cross-posted from the Hacked Off site.