Belfast Telegraph

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The newspaper regulator is not perfect, but it's a decent start

By Paul Connolly

Published 13/11/2015

Stephen Nolan and Miriam O'Callaghan.
Stephen Nolan and Miriam O'Callaghan.

To the Belfast Media Festival last Friday, and in particular a debate on how newspapers like this one are regulated.

As usual, strong opinions, colourful stories and not a little bit of spin characterised the debate.

The concept was: Press Regulation, is IPSO the Answer?

The participants included Evan Harris of the Hacked Off campaign, a last-minute arrival after apparently protesting to the organisers that the anti-IPSO side wasn't robust enough. He got his way and was given a seat on the panel.

Also on the panel was Paul Tweed of local solicitors Johnsons, a long-time critic of the PCC and IPSO, and Roy Greenslade, Guardian columnist, journalism professor, part-time Donegal inhabitant and someone who could probably be described as in the middle of the debate on newspaper regulation.

Another broadly in the middle was local freelance journalist and Belfast Telegraph contributor Malachi O'Doherty, although he said he is also no fan of IPSO.

That left Matt Tee, chief executive of IPSO and Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors firmly in the regulator's corner. The event was chaired by Miriam O'Callaghan of RTE.

I wasn't alone in the audience at wondering how a debate in Belfast on newspaper regulation could feature four Englishmen, one southerner and just two locals, but never mind.

Tee set out IPSO's stall and hinted at a soon-ish announcement for a much-trailed new arbitration pilot scheme.

Now, I'm a robust defender of IPSO and think most - not all -criticism is unfair and unsound.

I do think they were slow getting off the ground, shouldn't have moved into the PCC's office and made at least one inappropriate appointment.

I also think lay people should have a far bigger voice on the Editors' Code committee. Currently, only three of 16 seats are for lay members.

The system must be fair, and must also be seen to be fair. Perception is key.

For me some of the most interesting comments came from Paul Tweed. He is, I feel, correct when he raised the issue of a defamation mediation scheme for Northern Ireland.

The libel game is a costly and convoluted lottery - an appropriate, officially-endorsed mediation scheme would open justice to more people with speedier resolutions and less pain all round. The sooner a conversation is started on that one the better.

His criticism that the Editors' Code committee is chaired by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is not unfair.

Dacre has been a brilliant defender of freedom of expression and played a critical role in opposing Leveson. Isn't that exactly the point? What message is being sent by having such a partisan figure as chairman? Back to perception.

• The Belfast Telegraph's interview (November 2) with James Quinn, whose brother was so brutally killed by IRA figures in south Armagh made compelling reading. Readers in print and online reacted with trenchant comments and none put it better than Harry Stephenson:

"I could not sit back and do nothing after reading the message from James Quinn in the Belfast Telegraph on the inhumane death inflicted upon his brother, Paul."

He then made a powerful challenge to Sinn Fein voters to "do the decent thing" and withhold votes until the killers are yielded up. Mr Stephenson's short, to- the-point plea was a great example of the power of the Reader's Letter.

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