Papers ‘unlikely to face £1m fines’

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Published: Sunday 9th November 2014 by The News Editor

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Newspapers are unlikely to be hit with £1 million fines by the new watchdog regulating the press, its chairman has said.

Sir Alan Moses, who leads the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), insisted the body will come “armed with a slim, clear book of rules and not with an iron fist” when it tackles complaints.

But the former Court of Appeal judge warned editors he will “damn” those that flagrantly break the rules.

In a speech to the Society of Editors, Sir Alan said: “Mistakes and errors of judgment will always occur.

“But if you do so deliberately, flagrantly, without caring one jot whether you break the code or not, Ipso will damn you.”

Sir Alan insisted he does not want to see a “boring” British press and told how he wants Ipso to support newspapers in continuing to be “unruly”.

“We do not want a boring, defensive press: we want a free, fair and unruly press ruled only by an independent regulator, Ipso, who will support you and encourage you to remain free, fair and unruly,” Sir Alan said.

The vast majority of newspapers have signed up to Ipso, which replaces the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), with The Guardian and Financial Times among notable absentees.

Campaign group Hacked Off has accused the organisation of being a “sham”.

Sir Alan said Ipso should be assessed on how its decisions are reached rather than the outcome.

“Ipso’s strength and independence will not be demonstrated by merely flexing its muscles,” he added.

“What a sign of weakness it is when the playground bully needs to show some pumped up bicep.

“When Ipso was launched we were all told how different the regulatory regime would be now that there was power to fine up to a million pounds or 1% of annual turnover. And they said, ‘there you are … now you can show your mettle by fining someone a million pounds, that’s what you need’.

“You only have to say that, to see how unlikely it is. Proper successful independent regulation will not be established by manic firing of a big bazooka. And anyway, we don’t know how to fire it: the instruction booklet for the use of so novel a weapon is rather too complicated for we ordinary mortals at Ipso to understand.”

Sir Alan acknowledged that the press is facing difficult times and suggested that it is “often more spun against than spinning”.

He underlined his intention to simplify the procedural rules that Ipso must follow when deciding if a newspaper has breached the code of conduct.

Sir Alan said: “It cannot be fair, it cannot reach reasonable decisions, if no one can simply, speedily and readily understand the procedural rules it is going to apply.

“Our decisions will be, from time to time, unpopular,” he added. “But we are not here to be popular. We are not here only to secure agreement but to manage disagreement.

“Of course it is important that there should be urgent and speedy resolution of complaints. Publications should be encouraged to settle disputes, with fairness, clarity and above all without delay.”

Published: Sunday 9th November 2014 by The News Editor

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