The launch last week of the press industry-backed press regulator is a farce, but one that the media moguls are determined to run for all it’s worth. This is press industry-driven self-regulation again in all but name. The press industry is one of the three biggest powers in the State, along with the finance industry and big corporate business, and all three will do anything to reject and avoid regulation since they refuse to accept even the slightest limitation on their own power. The almighty row over telephone/mobile hacking however left the press tycoons in a quandary since it is illegal and it was gradually uncovered that it had been occurring on a vast scale. Resistance to Leveson’s entirely fair and balanced reforms was therefore difficult when he proposed ensuring genuine accountability but without in any way inhibiting freedom of expression. Leveson did not demur from the principle of self-regulation, but insisted that it should have to meet clearly defined basic standards and that this process should be seen by a modest body which was manifestly independent of the industry.
The pitch by the Sun, Mail & Telegraph last week, however, to shout down and circumvent Leveson is a decoy that leads nowhere. Their so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation – IPSO for short, ironically, since obviously its creators didn’t realise this, meaning in the original Latin ‘by itself’ – is not independent and will not control press standards adequately at all. The key issue is who appoints the chairman and chief executive, what are their powers, and who holds them to account. The chairman they have chosen, Sir Alan Moses, a retired senior judge, cannot rewrite the IPSO articles, whatever he may think of them, because the press tycoons (or their minions) drafted them and only they can change them. The same goes for the chief executive, Sir Hayden Phillips, a former permanent secretary at DCMS (Department of Culture, Media and Sport). These two figures are not accountable to the public or to parliament, but to the press industry itself.
Despite the pretence of independence, the detail shows what a stitch-up the whole IPSO charade is. Only news publishers that are members of a so-called Regulatory Funding Company can change the rules, and the voting structure gives overriding power to Murdoch, the Mail, the Telegraph and the Mirror. Just as the recent chair of the press complaints commission, Lady Buscombe, was thwarted in her efforts for reform, exactly the same will prevent Moses and Phillips seeking to improve redress and accountability. Indeed they may eventually resign when they realise what a merely figurehead position they’re taking on. Murdoch & c0 even have the gall to suggest that IPSO meets all Leveson’s key requirements, but an analysis by the Media Standards Trust found it only met less than a third of Leveson’s recommendations.