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Independent Press Standards Organisation Case Study

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has received more than 500 online complaints about unregulated national newspapers – most of which were about The Guardian.

The Guardian and Observer, Financial Times, Evening Standard and Independent titles have so far not signed up to IPSO, which replaced the Press Complaints Commission in September 2014, or to alternative press regulator Impress.

Instead these titles have opted to regulate themselves.

Press Gazette asked IPSO how many complaints it has received about these titles.

IPSO only has figures for online complaints submitted about unregulated titles. Those who phone up to complain about content in these papers are simply told by IPSO that it does not regulate them and are referred on to the papers themselves.

According to IPSO, it has received 407 complaints through its online system about The Guardian.

More than half – 262 – of these were in relation to a Steve Bell cartoon of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. The Guardian itself dismissed claims that the cartoon was "racist" saying that it was a joke targeted at the SNP, not Scottish people in general.

IPSO said it had received a further 84 complaints about The Independent. Earlier this month, Press Gazette reported how the regulator had received 12 complaints about the title's 'Aylan' front page.

The Independent's sister title the Evening Standard, meanwhile, was the subject of 37 complaints and The Independent on Sunday of three.

Four complaints over the same period have been made to IPSO over The Observer and two on the Financial Times.

Complaints to the FT, Guardian/Observer and Independent/Standard titles are dealt with in-house initially. The FT also has its own ombudsman, and The Guardian/Observer has a review panel, both of which deal with issues which can't be settled in-house.

Press Gazette understands that IPSO is planning to release complaints figures for all the newspapers it regulates.

Press Gazette asked Guardian News and Media and the Independent/Standard (as the most complained-about non-regulated titles) how many complaints they have received themselves, and what happens when complaints can't be resolved internally.

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson said: "Our data shows that 12 months after IPSO opened its doors, the vast majority of complainants are coming directly to the Guardian for a speedy resolution.  

"The Steve Bell cartoon attracted a high volume of complaints to our independent readers' editor, who dealt with ?each one swiftly and openly. We also publish details of complaints and the findings of our Independent Review Panel on our website, including instances where ?the Review Panel has ruled against us.?"


Standard and Independent managing editor Will Gore said: "We don’t plan to release figures at this stage, bearing in mind that other titles have not yet done so. But on the general point about the in-house system we operate, you’ll be aware that we have established easy-to-use complaint forms at both standard.co.uk and independent.co.uk – signposted via the links at the foot of each page: http://www.independent.co.uk/service/code-of-conduct-and-complaints-6280644.html and http://www.standard.co.uk/incoming/code-of-conduct-complaints-7467885.html.

"We also run a panel in all three daily titles setting out our commitment to high standards and explaining how people can get in touch.

"All complaints come through to me. In conjunction with my colleague Lizzie Kirkwood (our readers’ liaison assistant), I examine each case and consider whether it raises any matter requiring a remedy. We then work with editorial colleagues and the complainant to find a satisfactory resolution to the case. Overwhelmingly, we have been able to resolve cases which have merit – both significant and minor – expeditiously and to the satisfaction of complainants.

"Naturally we keep our system under review and will continue to do so."

A rebranded and revamped replacement for the defunct press regulation body heavily criticised by the Leveson Inquiry, has been revealed by a group representing Britain's largest newspaper and magazine publishers.

The constitutional structure of the new " Independent Press Standards Organisation" (IPSO), will now be looked at by the Privy Council ahead of the current government-backed royal charter which was passed by parliament in March.

Claiming to be a "complete break from the past" and to deliver "key recommendations" made in the Leveson report, IPSO will not need the underpinning of a royal charter to impose £1m fines, operate a whistle-blowers hotline, investigate complaints and to allow "upfront corrections and adjudications".

Paul Vickers, the legal director of Trinity Mirror who chaired the group of newspaper and magazine publishers which drew up the IPSO's constitution sent to the government, said the new body would have "very real teeth". Mr Vickers, in an interview with the BBC, denied it was a "creature of the industry" and claimed to have the support of the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller.

The clash of two distinctly different visions for the regulatory future of Britain's fourth estate has already created constitutional shock-waves. The former deputy prime minister, Lord Prescott, has announced he is to resign from the Privy Council over the "highly political " way the sovereign advisory body has acted over plans for a new regulatory framework for the press.

Lord Prescott criticised the IPSO constitution being given precedence over the charter already voted on by parliament. He said the decision confirmed his " worst fears" that the government were rushing the examination of an industry-backed version of regulation through the Privy Council. He called the process a "conspiracy between the Prime Minister and the press."

David Cameron has said that the press-backed charter, rather than royal charter approved by MPs in March, had "serious shortcomings".

Although the new IPSO constitution can be seen as marginalising the hard-line recommendations put forward by Lord Justice Leveson and the retention of self-regulation backed by Rupert Murdoch's News UK, the Daily Mail publisher, Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph Media Group, other UK newspaper groups who previously offered support for March's royal charter, reacted positively to the new structure.

Chris Blackhurst, the newly-appointed group content director of The independent and Evening Standard titles said "We've always called for genuine transparency and today's development should go some way towards allaying that concern. These proposals should lead to a beefed-up system with genuine punishments and the power to launch investigations. "

A spokesman for Guardian News and Media, who along with the Financial Times and The Independent, had previously been luke-warm to an industry-dominated regulator, said "We look forward to receiving the documents [the IPSO draft constitution] and participating in the consultation."

Brian Cathcart, the executive director of the Hacked Off pressure group which participated in the political manoeuvring behind the royal charter, told The Independent : "On this evidence the newspaper industry looks to be still in denial about the need for change. If it really wants to convince us, it should back the March charter in the same way the public and victims have done."

Professor Cathcart said IPSO was simply "cosmetic change" and a way of "ducking the royal charter". He claimed the Privy Council could only advise and judge policy, not create its own, and that once the alternative to the charter was rejected the newspaper industry would seek a judicial review that could push future regulation beyond the next general election.

Mr Vickers also issued a similar threat saying there were "large parts of the industry that would find it very, very difficult to support [a charter]" . He warned that with annual costs of the charter structure estimated at £3.5m to £4m, a "critical mass of papers and publishers" would simply "walk away".

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