Why I’m ever so slightly worried about IPSO

I am a supporter of IPSO – and not just because I share a birthday with it.

Launched on September 8 last year, the new press watchdog is obviously still finding its feet.

As I have said before, the code inherited by IPSO from its predecessor the PCC is as good a charter for a decent press as we’re ever likely to get.

And now with the ultimate sanction of fining errant publications, this is an organisation still taken seriously by editors.

But the process of cutting its teeth – and, perhaps, of attempting to appease Hacked Off supporters – is throwing up some behaviour that could threaten to erode some of that industry trust and credibility.

On the face of it, IPSO’s recent ruling on the naming of a victim in court looks a reassuring one, rejecting as it did a complaint from an assaulted woman who wanted to remain anonymous.

I have written before about the need for responsibility in the reporting of court cases and I remain uncomfortable when some victims are named.

But the code – not to mention the law – is very clear on the rights of the media to report information emerging from open and unrestricted court.

Editors may choose not to name victims in certain circumstances.

But that should remain their own case-by-case judgement call, and not be governed by a hammer-to-crack-a-nut piece of legislation or one-size-fits-all industry rule.

So, while IPSO’s decision is the right one, I share the concern of a Hold the Front Page reader, who said:

Can’t help feeling the first of these should never have got to the stage of a decision having to be made. Surely someone could have taken the complainant aside and explained the basic workings of a court in a free country? Having to go through a pointless procedure was just a waste of time, particularly for the newspaper concerned.

My concern over IPSO’s apparent lack of a sifting process has grown after I discovered it was asking a title to justify its coverage of an inquest.

And when I say its coverage, I mean its decision to cover the hearing, as opposed to what it actually wrote.

Again, my personal view is that much of what goes on at many inquests is none of our business.

But I’d hate to see a law or code clause that took over the moral compass of an editor.

That really is slippery slope stuff.

So I’m surprised – to put it mildly – that this complaint has gone as far as it has.

Having spoken to a number of editors from all sorts of companies in recent months, I also detect an air of puzzlement which at times spills over into frustration over the protracted nature of IPSO’s processes.

Editors now have to contact a complainant who may never have directly complained to them, to try to resolve a problem before IPSO gets involved.

And the toings and froings can go on for weeks, as each side brings new information and arguments to the table.

Having seen one email trail recently, my overriding thought was that IPSO seemed reluctant to draw stumps, climb off the fence and come to a decision.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to have a watchdog that enforces guidelines that enable us to present ourselves as an ethical, responsible, reliable but also effective part of a modern democracy.

And IPSO is that watchdog.

I just think – and I should stress this is very much a personal opinion – that it needs to have the courage of the convictions it has embedded in that code of practice.

It may feel that it’s been on probation since my 51st birthday last year.

I know it’s not yet even one. But now is the time for it to spread its wings and fly.

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