IPSO – the Independent Press Standards Organisation – took over from the Press Complaints Commission today.
How we got here is a matter of record, featuring the phone-hacking scandal; the Leveson Inquiry; prosecutions past, and more to come.
You will find plenty of critics of both IPSO, and the alternative Royal Charter regulation elsewhere. What I will talk about here is the practical impact the new regulator will have on those who have signed up for it.
Firstly, for reporters, the important thing to know is that the Editors’ Code of Practice remains the code of ethical conduct that governs your work. You need to know the code and how it is applied. Importantly, you must adhere to the ‘spirit’ of the code, and to understand this you must make it your business to know how the code has been applied.
It is as important to know your way around the code as it is to understand libel, shorthand, or how to write a decent intro – it is a basic tool of your trade.
In this sense then, not a lot has changed, the code remains the same.
What has changed is the way in which complaints under it are going to be handled. This is a matter that editors, deputies, senior managers and newsdesk execs need to concern themselves with.
From now on, how you handle a complaint is going to be crucial because in some instance you do not have the backstop of the PCC mediating for you.
If IPSO receives a complaint about a story, in the first instance it will refer the complainant to the publication’s complaints handling procedures.
Publishers therefore must have effective procedures in place to handle such complaints.
Staff need to know what to do with a complaint. It must be logged properly, reported to line managers, and dependent on the nature of the complaints elevated to the managers who are able to resolve it properly.
Some complaints, requiring perhaps a simple correction, can be dealt with by a reporter and newsdesk. Other more serious complaints will need the intervention of the editor. You need procedures in place to determine which is which and to act accordingly. All this needs to be done in 28 days.
If the complaint is not resolved in that time, that is what IPSO gets involved.
If the matter has to go to IPSO because of failures in the complaints-handling processes of the publication, that is when they need to be worried.
If they are suspected of a systemic failing to uphold standards, then IPSO can come in to investigate. This could mean interviewing staff, looking at notes and other records and demanding access to newspaper systems. It could be a very uncomfortable process.
Following on from that, if such an investigation finds serious failings to uphold standards, there is the ultimate sanction of a financial penalty.
So, as I said, complaints handling is vital, as is note-keeping, recording of newsdesk advice and decisions; legal advice sought and given; and editorial involvement. There needs to be clear guidance given to all staff about the sort of issue that requires editorial clearance before any action is taken that might be a breach of the code.
No-one wants to be the first publication to fall foul of an IPSO adjudication. if you have not done so already, sort out your complaints procedures now.
And let’s be careful out there.