It sounds extra-ordinary, but it looks like the Sun has declared war on IPSO – the self –regulatory body for the press. And in doing so has possibly cast doubt on the future of self-regulation itself.
Firstly, though, let’s note a significant moment. For the first time IPSO have exercised their new powers to deal with misleading headlines. The Sun claimed, in a front page splash, that Her Majesty was in favour of a Brexit from the EU. Buckingham Palace complained. The newspaper refused to apologise so IPSO’s Complaints Committee ruled. The ‘paper had to print their adjudication in full and publicise that on their front page.
Being able to act on misleading headlines is long overdue. The willingness of IPSO to do so is positive. And the organisation’s work on building high standards into the everyday culture of newspapers is welcome. But it is only two cheers because IPSO also has the power to direct how its decisions are presented. A banner at the bottom of the front page is a clear improvement on the miniscule content the last time The Sun got “done” for a front page error. But it still has nothing like the impact of the original story. My view is clear: If something was so important to warrant a front page splash and it turns out to be wrong – then the correction should have just as much prominence.
In fairness to IPSO, the decision was leading on most broadcast media this morning ahead of the eclipse caused by the Queen’s Speech (and perhaps the timing of the announcement could have been better for that reason). But take it from me, nothing and I mean nothing, acts as a reality- check for newspaper editors than having their front page taken away from them. That is why for the most serious breaches of the Editor’s Code, it is an absolutely appropriate sanction.
But the Sun’s response may come to be regarded as near-suicidal. I think it is possibly unprecedented – certainly in the post-Leveson era – for an editorial attacking the sanction to be published in the same edition! “We respect IPSO…but they got it wrong” is a reasonable paraphrasing. This reassertion of faith in a headline that has been found to be unsupported by the story that follows it is surely the journalistic equivalent of sticking two fingers up. (Incidentally, in the same editorial they also claim to know what the Queen thinks)
“We don’t care what you say..ain’t no regulator gonna shut us up” seems to be the line. But decry IPSO in this particular way and you invite attacks on the self-regulatory system. For those that value a free presses, that is a very dangerous road to go down.
Full disclosure: I was a member of The Press Complaints Commission 2008-2014