Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog IPSO must exhibit same standards it demands of us

By Paul Connolly

IPSO, the new Press standards regulator, has got through its first quarter, and despite being never too far from the headlines, things have gone tolerably well.

The organisation received nearly 3,000 complaints, and has also dished out advice to newspapers and to people on the receiving end of media attention.

Three thousand seems like a lot. It may or may not suggest some emerging trends: lots of errors, lots of serial complainers or an emerging trust in IPSO.

It's too early to judge but it's probably a combination of all three. IPSO's detractors - and there are many - believe the whole thing is a hopeless fudge dreamed up by the newspaper industry and some shadowy political backers.

The test will be publishers' willingness to genuinely investigate, remedy where possible and to keep an honest paper trail. And IPSO's ability to play hard cop.

Chairman Sir Alan Moses has pledged to put in place a tough compliance regime.

I've always maintained that with some newspapers, particularly the London nationals (and I don't just mean the red-tops) it was all but impossible to get a correction into the paper.

Editors appeared to view them as signs of weakness. This approach was not just morally wrong, it was stupid and self-defeating.

Hopefully it is on its way to becoming as extinct as deference to doctors, trust in bank managers and blind faith in all clergymen.

As well as dealing with complaints, IPSO has inherited the Press Complaints Commission's early-warning system.

This is a way of advising publishers that the subject of media attention has strongly declared they do not want further approaches, usually as it disturbs private family life.

More than 30 'private advisory notices', as they are called, have been issued, including at least one from a person in Northern Ireland who felt media attention was becoming overbearing.

IPSO does not take a view per se when issuing such notices, generally passing on requests and drawing publishers' attention to relevant schedules of the Code of Practice on, for example, harassment or privacy.

Editors are not bound by these advisories, and they are certainly not adjudications by IPSO. However, I do find that editors take them very seriously indeed.

They give a helpful indication of how an adjudication is likely to go unless very different facts emerge in any subsequent investigation.

Sir Alan recently wrote to editors setting out his programme of work for 2015, including testing some newspapers' state of IPSO compliance and moves towards simplifying the organisation's complicated rules.

He should start with sorting out his own website and Twitter feed. Repeated clicks on the news release detailing his pre-Christmas letter to editors on the website and Twitter were met this week with a '404' error stating that the requested Press release was not found on the server. This isn't the first time I've experienced this on www.ipso.co.uk.

When I tried to use another browser - Firefox - it wouldn't even let me on to the IPSO website because it didn't trust the site's security certificate.

I can access it via other browsers so this is local to Firefox. I've kept the screen grabs if anyone at IPSO cares to check this out.

I know this seems like small beer, but if Sir Alan is going to insist on exacting standards from the media then the industry - and, more importantly, the public - will expect the same in return.

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