IN PART One of this special report on the powerful but little-known instruments of billionaire Press and media power, policy expert Nathan Sparkes examined the close relationship between industry lobby groups the News Media Association (NMA) and Newsworks during the Coronavirus crisis. Here in Part Two, he looks at the links between the NMA and newspaper ‘self-regulator’ the ‘Independent Press Standards Organisation’ (IPSO), and tells how the:
- NEWSPAPER industry is closely linked to its own ‘independent self-regulator’
- STANDARDS the self-regulator “enforces” are set by the editors employed by the most powerful newspaper corporations, while:
- SCRUTINY of its members over allegations of Press abuse is weak and ineffective
THE NEWS Media Association does for the UK’s oligarch-owned newspapers what the National Rifle Association does for gun control in the United States.
When their vested interests are under threat – whether by firearms legislation, or the prospect of genuinely independent Press regulation – they go on the offensive.
Which makes the close ties between the NMA and Britain’s so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) so remarkable.
For the NMA regularly behaves as a cheerleader for IPSO; singing its praises, reproducing its press releases, and publicly defending it against criticism.
But why are two organisations which are – on the face of it – ‘poacher and gamekeeper’ so interconnected? And can this be healthy for free expression?
Having failed to meet the criteria for independent and effective press regulators – as agreed by Parliament on a cross-party basis – IPSO is frequently accused of bias and impotence.
But then, IPSO itself is not independent of the industry which it claims to regulate.
Its rules, the standards code it relies on, and a raft of other aspects of its constitution are subject to agreement with or direction from the ‘Regulatory Funding Company’ (RFC).
And it is this secretive RFC – whose meetings go on behind closed doors with minutes unpublished – that enjoys most power over IPSO’s functions.
This RFC ‘model’ first surfaced (under a different name) in a detailed submission to the Leveson Inquiry in 2012.
But Lord Justice Leveson rejected the planned IPSO/RFC model in his Report outright.
He believed giving newspaper executives the power to control self-regulation through a body like the RFC would leave the regulator hamstrung and ineffective.
Yet only months after the Inquiry reported, the industry announced its plans for the RFC to be established regardless.
While the NMA lobbies on behalf of the newspaper industry and the RFC is part of the largest publishers’ regulatory framework, it would be normal to expect the two organisations to be in a constant state of tension and (constructive) disagreement, as in virtually every other trade or profession.
But the two bodies are not just close – they share the same address.
And offices are not all they share.
Seven newspaper executives representing the most powerful newspapers in the country sit on the RFC.
They are joined by a politician – Conservative Peer Lord Black of Brentwood, who is also Chairman of the NMA’s mysterious “Legal, Political and Regulatory Affairs Committee”.
There is surprisingly little to read online about this Committee and its well-connected Chair.
But what we do know is that Lord Black was also the author of the submission to Leveson – which was comprehensively rejected by the judge – to form an RFC-style body back in 2012.
More about him and the NMA will follow in the next part of this special report.
READ MORE from Nathan Sparkes in Part Three next week