The new chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, Sir Alan Moses, has spent the first two days officially in post in Scotland, meeting both senior industry figures and critics of newspapers alike.
Although he has already been involved in setting up the new system, in particular the appointment of its management board, he only stepped down from his role as an appeal court judge on Friday and so yesterday was his first full day in his new job.
Following a lunch with managing directors in Glasgow on Monday, Sir Alan attended an emotional and often heated public debate at Napier University in Edinburgh on Monday night, at which SNS director John McLellan was a speaker. The debate was also to have featured a representative of the Hacked Off pressure group, but they declined the invitation. Extracts from John McLellan’s speech and a statement from Hacked Off follow below.
On Tuesday morning Sir Alan also met representatives of the Watson family who gave evidence at the Leveson Inquiry, and he then met members of the SNS editors’ committee.
John McLellan said: “The Scottish industry is determined to make IPSO a success and we were delighted that Sir Alan was able to come up to Scotland so early in his tenure on an important fact-finding mission and to give us his thoughts on how the new system might work.”
John McLellan’s speech at Napier University:
“As someone who has been involved with newspapers all my working life, I strongly believe that this country is a beacon of press freedom in which our journalists can easily scrutinise decisions made every day in our name, can operate without fearing the heavy hand of the government or the law can call us to account at any time and can uncover wrong-doing knowing the public recognise and value what we do.
“It is also the case that the new system of regulation about to be introduced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation thankfully represents only a tweak to the old Press Complaints Commission regime and all of us who believe in a truly free press should be very grateful for that.
“Apart from the fact I have indeed spent my entire adult life in and around newspapers and newspaper people, the rest of what I have just said is, of course, all utter rubbish.
“Before I get on to IPSO, or indeed the PCC on which I served as a commissioner, let me just remind you of a few things journalists must consider as they go about their business.
“Firstly there is the Contempt of Court Act, 1981. I know a bit about this because I was prosecuted for contempt on two occasions. One was described by our lawyer as at best spurious and it was eventually thrown out. The second, as a result of an honest misunderstanding by a court reporter, resulted in a £9,000 fine.
“And only recently, a publisher not far from here incurred a four-figure legal bill because a sheriff wanted to satisfy himself that a short story in a weekly paper had not caused a problem with the case he was hearing. After a day’s legal argument, he was indeed happy there was no contempt but the publisher was left out of pocket.
“Then we have the Defamation Act. I know a bit about that too. As a result of a stupid mistake by someone who ignored the express instructions of the duty editor, The Scotsman had to pay £20,000 damages to Chris Jefferies, the man wrongly accused of the murder of Joanna Yates.
“I mention these incidents only to demonstrate that operating in the relative calm of the newspaper world beyond Fleet Street did not mean that the law did not have a direct effect on what we did.
“Like hundreds of other journalists up and down the country, we strived every day to remain within the law, but occasionally fell foul of it, thankfully rarely in the 15 years I edited significant titles.
“Add to these laws the Human Rights Act 1998, the Data Protection Act 1998, the Official Secrets Act 1989, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the 2010 Bribery Act; They all have a significant impact on the way journalists operate in this country.
“Talk of the unregulated press is, in my view, facile.
“It is largely as a result of RIPA that senior journalists are now on trial at the Old Bailey, and if found guilty they may well go to jail.
“And this cuts to the heart of the current debate about freedom of the press and the phone hacking scandal in particular.
“Phone hacking was and is against the law, a crime for which the ultimate punishment is imprisonment. The last time I looked it was the job of the police and the courts to decide who should be arrested and who should go to jail, not a civil regulator.
“As it was constructed, the PCC never had the power to investigate the phone hacking scandal properly and even if it had, it did not have the power to compel people to give evidence before it.
“In dealing with phone hacking, or more accurately not dealing with it, there was undoubted failure at the heart of the PCC. All those connected with it at the time, and that includes me, accepted there were mistakes.
“Lack of curiosity certainly, a willingness to accept assurances at face value, an ill-judged attack on a lawyer and, ironically, a newspaper, were all part of it.
“But let’s not forget that as a Complaints Commission, it needed complaints upon which to act. For all those stories connected to phone hacking, the problem was there could be no complaints if the stories were accurate.
“It is deeply ironic that when the commonest charge against journalists used to be that they “just made things up” that the biggest crisis ever to engulf the industry was as a result of stories which were cast-iron, copper-bottomed true.
“But it’s difficult to pin the entire blame for the failing to uncover the extent of the scandal when the people with the real power to investigate, the police, confirmed in writing it was the action of only one or two rogue individuals.
“The phone hacking scandal was a failure of the police and they have still to be properly held to account. I’m sure Lord Leveson needs no reminding that his job is only half done.
“Rightly or wrongly, the PCC was discredited and even without Lord Leveson’s recommendations the system of self-regulation needed reform to maintain public confidence.
“But what Lord Leveson did not throw out was the editors’ code of conduct. He said it was a good code and while it is now under review, in its essence it will remain at the heart of what IPSO will be there to enforce.
“Dry statute is one thing, but the editors’ code provides a strong moral basis for how British journalists should operate. Like anything it is open to interpretation but what it embodies is a respect for individuals and the right for ordinary people to be treated with decency and consideration.
“It is our code and we are rightly proud of it.
“But what of Press freedom?
“Freedom for me involves the ability to operate without the fear of political consequences hanging over our heads, which is precisely what the government’s Royal Charter promised. It formalised the role of politicians, the very people the Press is there to scrutinise, in deciding how it should operate.
“Secondly, freedom means being able to break all of the above rules and regulations when there is justification. And when there is no justification, there are understood sanctions which do not include the further curtailment of freedom.
“This is what we believe IPSO delivers and it is all funded by the industry. I see no public demand for the tax-payer to foot the bill.
“So what will IPSO do?
1. It introduces a public interest audit process whereby editors will have to prove how they fully considered the public interest before they set out on investigations.
2. Members must provide an annual compliance report in which they must demonstrate how they apply the system.
3. The new standards arm can investigate even in the absence of a complaint. It will no longer be good enough to sit back and wonder how a publisher got a particular story, IPSO can seek answers
4. For systematic abuses, IPSO can levy fines of up to £1m.
“That last point is crucial. A newspaper publisher won’t have to break the law to face a fine. And pay the associated costs which will be considerable.
“Is the industry happy with all of this? Of course it isn’t. The big national publishers know there will be breaches at some point and now there are potentially even greater costs associated with it.
“Smaller regional publishers now face significant compliance issues as a result of something which was not their doing.
“So why do it? It is because of two basic things:
“Firstly, as people in the communications industry we recognised that we had lost the public’s faith and we needed to restore it.
“And secondly, to retain the public’s faith in our ability to carry out scrutiny without fear or favour we needed to keep the hands of state power at bay.
“What we have is a wonderfully diverse, irreverent and at times, yes, badly-behaved Press. That is as it should be.
“IPSO will be there to defend the public, but also to defend the public interest. That too is as it should be.”
Hacked Off’s statement for the Napier University debate, which was read out at the event:
“Hacked Off sees IPSO for what it is – an outright rejection of the Leveson Report. The Leveson Report was the product of a 15 month public inquiry into press regulation and was – via a Royal Charter – overwhelmingly endorsed in the Westminster Parliament and endorsed unanimously in the Scottish Parliament.
“The views of a senior judge who has conducted an Inquiry and the will of Parliament should prevail, and it is outrageous that the press should think they can reject these decisions and get away with it, via another fake regulator, called IPSO. Neither the public nor victims of press abuse will accept IPSO.
“So Hacked Off will not co-operate with any public meeting called by IPSO, which purports to seeks to re-run the Leveson Inquiry and re-ask questions that were extensively covered and addressed there and in the Leveson Report itself. We will not give legitimacy to such a meeting. The press industry, which has created IPSO. have spent 18 months ignoring the public and blaring anti-Leveson propaganda through the megaphone they control, and attacking everyone who seeks to stand up to them.
“The public was never consulted before IPSO’s rules were written and entrenched by the industry. Sir Alan Moses has no power to change the articles of the company, and he received no assurances from the press barons that they would either change the rules to comply will all that Leveson required or to seek recognition. So this is a “fake consultation” – a pointless charade – by a fake regulator. It is too late to try to talk to the public now, once the rules of IPSO are written leaving it little better than the old, failed, PCC; and when it is committed to rejecting the Leveson main rejection of recognition.
“Again, we stress that the public and victims of press abuse support the Leveson Report, the rule of law, and the will of democratically elected Parliaments. If IPSO wants public support it should go and read the Leveson Report, adapt its rules to comply with it and seek recognition under the Royal Charter. Doing anything else is a disgraceful attempt to keep open the “Last Chance Saloon of failed press self-regulation, with a lick of paint and new barman”. That is what happened under Calcutt in the early nineties. It must not happen again.
“This is why Prof Natalie Fenton, a board director of Hacked Off, is not appearing.”