This post was first published on the Huffington Post UK on 3rd November 2014
In the last few weeks there have been significant developments in press regulation that have gone entirely unreported, despite the fact that they involve the most senior figures in the news industry, and despite that fact that they increase the dependence of the industry’s new self-regulatory body, IPSO, on the major publishers.
The Chief Executive of the Telegraph Group, Murdoch MacLennan, has been made the ninth and final member of the Board of IPSO’s funding body. Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mail, has been made the Chair of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee – and other industry committee members have been made public. David Newell has been made Secretary of the funding body and, a new, more powerful news industry lobbying group is being established called the News Media Association.
Telegraph Chief Executive to be ninth member of the RFC Board
A ninth – and final – Director has been appointed to the Board of IPSO’s funding body, the Regulatory Funding Company (RFC). The RFC not only controls IPSO’s funding, but has a veto over key decisions like changes to the Code of Practice, the establishment of an arbitration service, and any changes to the IPSO regulations themselves.
When the first eight members of the RFC were announced it was considered newsworthy that there were no representatives from the Telegraph Media Group or the Mail Group – two of the UK’s most powerful publishing groups, and most prominent critics of Leveson. News Corp’s News UK was represented (by its Chief Financial Officer), as was Northern and Shell (by its Group Editorial Director) and Trinity Mirror (by its Group Legal Director), but not the Telegraph or Mail (the lack of representation of working journalists, women, or anyone who was not a senior executive in a news publisher was not mentioned in the coverage).
The Telegraph’s absence has now been rectified. The ninth member of the RFC Board is the Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group, Murdoch MacLennan. McLennan is the most senior executive figure at the Telegraph and appeared in the Media Guardian 100 in 2011, 2012, and 2013 (#29 in 2013). Prior to working at the Telegraph Group he was a senior executive at Associated Newspapers, and has been on the Board of the Newspaper Publishers’ Association for the past 16 years. The appointment was not considered newsworthy in either the national press or the industry’s own publications. Nor was it announced by the Regulatory Funding Company.
Paul Dacre to be Chair of the new Editor’s Code of Practice Committee
The Mail, though absent from the RFC Board, now appears to be well represented elsewhere across the IPSO system.
The new Editors’ Code of Practice Committee has now been established, again with no public announcement. The Chair of this Committee is Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mail. Dacre was also Chair of the previous Editors’ Code Committee during the PCC era (taking over from News International’s Les Hinton in 2008), he was a PCC Commissioner from 1998, and has been a Director of the Press Standards Board of Finance since 2004. Also on the new Code Committee is Geordie Greig, Editor of the Mail on Sunday. Peter Wright, the Editor Emeritus at Associated Newspapers has recently been appointed to IPSO’s Complaints Committee.
Based on its membership this new Editors’ Code of Practice Committee is not new. Every industry member was on the previous Committee, with an average tenure of almost a decade. Altogether they represent a hundred years of service on the Code Committee since it was created in 1991.
David Newell made Secretary of the Regulatory Funding Company
As this analysis shows, the Regulatory Funding Company has substantial control over IPSO, as the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBoF) did over the PCC.
The RFC Secretary has a critical position at the funding company. As the company’s Articles of Association show, the Secretary has discretion over the subscription each member pays to the RFC, and, through this, discretion over the numbers of votes eligible to be cast by publishers:
6.1.2 The numbers of votes eligible to be cast by a Regulated Entity in its Sector or Sectors and the number of votes cast by a Regulated Entity will be determined by the Secretary as defined in the Articles of Association of the Regulatory Funding Company (IPSO Scheme Membership Agreement)
24.6 Each member shall promptly supply to the Secretary such information as he or she may reasonably require in order that he or she may determine the amount of the member’s subscription in accordance with the methodology applicable to the Sector or Sectors to which the member is designated.
24.7 The Secretary’s determination shall be final and binding and each member shall pay its subscription to the Secretary within 30 days of being notified of the amount by the Secretary.
24.9 Subject to Article 24.10 the Secretary shall keep confidential and not disclose to any person, including the directors, any information provided to him or her in accordance with Article 24.7 nor the amount of any member’s subscription (Regulatory Funding Company Articles of Association)
David Newell has been made RFC Secretary. This information is not available on the RFC’s website but can be obtained via Companies House documents. The appointment was first referenced in these documents in July 2014.
David Newell previously occupied the position of Secretary at PressBoF, as well as his Directorship of the Newspaper Society (the representative body of the local and regional press) while being Secretary of the Newspaper Publishers’ Association, which represents the national press. He has been affiliated with the Press Standards Board of Finance since 1990, when it was created.
A new, more powerful industry lobbying group
A further development was revealed by Paul Dacre in a speech at the Ritz on Tuesday 28th November. There is to be a new newspaper industry lobbying group that will amalgamate the existing representative bodies in order to lobby more effectively on issues of public policy that affect the industry. To quote Mr Dacre in full (as this represents the only public statement on the matter):
…there is about to be a sea-change in the way the industry’s organisations are constituted. In the next few weeks, the merger – about time, too – of the national press and the regional press into one new representative body, the News Media Association, gives us far more clout that we have ever had before to oppose those things that undermine us and fight for the changes we need
There is no information available publicly on this group, its members, or its aims. It is not clear the extent to which the local and regional press will lose their distinctive voice in this merger.
One of the causes of public outrage in 2011 and catalyst for a public inquiry was concern about the power media organisations, and the news industry as a whole, held over the democratic process. It would now appear that a new, more powerful industry body is to be established with the express aim of lobbying and direct intervention in the democratic process.
Structural limitations on the freedom of the Chair of IPSO
These developments add to the structural limitations on IPSO’s independence already cited in our detailed assessment.
Within this context it is hard to see how Sir Alan Moses can act independently, regardless of his stated intentions to secure reforms to make IPSO more independent.
IPSO’s money is controlled by the most senior figures in news publishing (including the money available to fund investigations). IPSO’s rules prevent it from acting effectively on behalf of the public – and cannot be changed without consent from the largest publishing groups. IPSOs investigations are hemmed in by regulations that will make successful investigations and fines almost impossible. IPSO cannot establish an arbitration service without the consent of the RFC.
These appointments, and the manner in which they were made, reinforce the impression that the major publishers intend to recreate the previous, discredited, system of press self-regulation with the same figures in control. It repeats what Lord Justice Leveson called, ‘the pattern of cosmetic reform’ that has characterized the previous seven decades of press self-regulation.
It is difficult to see how IPSO can hope to gain public confidence when the news publishers that established it act in this way.
This post was written with Dr Gordon Ramsay