Chair of IPSO funding body blasts press regulator for failing to set up whistleblowers' hotline

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  • Paul Vickers, chairman of the Regulatory Funding Company: Hotline 'should be there'
  • Vickers: IPSO cannot legally change its rules 'unilaterally'
  • Vickers: Industry 'bent over backwards' to accommodate Guardian into IPSO
  • Hacked Off: Lack of hotline an example of why IPSO is not 'serious'
  • Hacked Off: Guardian, Independent and FT should be regulated independently
  • IPSO responds: Hotline will take time, but journalists can phone chief executive Matt Tee

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has been widely criticised for failing to so far establish a whistleblowers’ hotline.

The new press regulator, whose chairman is retired judge Sir Alan Moses (pictured above) and whose members include most national and regional titles, has been up and running since September.

The hotline, which was recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and included in IPSO’s founding documents, would give journalists an opportunity to anonymously blow the whistle on bad practice at their titles.

“It should be there,” said  Paul Vickers, chairman of the Regulatory Funding Company, which represents publishers and pays for IPSO through membership fees, told the House of Lords Communications Committee on Tuesday.

“If I have the right to be cross, I’m very cross that that’s not there. In my role, I don’t have the right to be cross… I don’t have the status to go and ring up Sir Alan and say: ‘Why haven’t you done it? Do it.’ But if I did, I would.”


Update: After this story was published, an IPSO spokesman told Press Gazette that a hotline is in the "workplan for 2015".

He said: "We do intend to have it, but it needs to be set up properly and it needs to be promoted effectively, and it needs to be staffed."

The spokesman explained that there are "financial implications" to setting up a hotline, and this can be done now that funding has been agreed for the year.

They added: "Any journalist who has a serious concern about the newsroom in his or her publication is invited to speak directly to IPSO's chief exec, Matt Tee. And if he's not able to be put through at that instant, they will be given Matt's mobile number and they will be able to have a confidential conversation.

"That's an indication of how seriously we take the issue."

If journalists have concerns outside of IPSO's office hours, the spokesman said they should leave an answerphone message or follow up with an email to IPSO.


Vickers told the Lords there was no issue over funding for the hotline, but said that some of Moses’s spending proposals had “raised a few eyebrows”.

He said that Matt Tee, the chief executive of IPSO, is being paid “significantly more” money than directors of the previous regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, were.

Vickers also told how IPSO has asked to move office from the “frankly quite nice” former headquarters of the PCC.

Regulatory Funding Company's 'cordial' relationship with IPSO

Asked about the funding body’s relationship with IPSO, Vickers said it was “as cordial as it can be”.

“We are not certainly, how do I put this, in each other’s pockets,” he said. “You’ve met Sir Alan Moses, you’ve read some of his comments over the last year. You know, he is very robust. He is super independent and he slightly shoots from the hip, but he says what he thinks.

“And we are having a perfectly professional relationship with him.”

Last week, Moses told the House of Lords committee that press owners should scrap rules allowing them to “obfuscate and resist” an investigation and spoke of the need to put a "red pencil… through a large amount of these rules".

But Vickers said it would be unlawful for IPSO to do this on its own, and suggested that he should get more "experience" running the regulator before proposing changes.

He said: “One of the things that we have stressed to him, which he says he hears, is that it took a long time to negotiate with as many parties as we did to get the structure that we eventually managed to do.

“There were loads and loads of people who didn’t want to be part of this system. And there were compromises made along the way.

"One of the people that we bent over backwards most to accommodate was in fact The Guardian. So lots and lots of the features of IPSO as it stands at the moment are there because The Guardian asked for them – and perhaps overcomplicated partly because of some of those things."

The Guardian, along with The Independent and Financial Times, has not signed up for IPSO, and is instead currently regulating itself.

On Moses's proposed changes, Vickers said: “As you will know, once you are signed up to a contract it’s impossible for, it should be impossible, and is in law, for one party to that contract to unilaterally change the terms of the contract.

"So Sir Alan says he is going to put a red line through a whole load of things. He can’t.

"What he can do, and we’ve said come and talk to us when you’ve got some experience of running the system as it was designed to be set up. And if things aren’t working we’ll talk about it. And we can see if through the signatory members of the industry we can change the system. And we are open to that.”

Vickers said he is meeting with Moses and IPSO tomorrow (Friday) to discuss his proposals.

He said: “We are waiting to see his very detailed proposals for changes to the regulation – hope we get them before Friday – and we can have a proper discussion with him then.”

Hacked Off: Lack of hotline an example of why IPSO is not 'serious'

Chris Frost, chair of the National Union of Journalists Ethics Committee, was also critical of the fact IPSO has not established a whistleblowers' hotline, as was campaign group, Hacked Off.

“Leveson said that there should be a whistleblowers’ hotline to go to the regulator,” said Hugh Tomlinson, QC, of Hacked Off.

“Journalists are very often pushed by their management into doing things they don’t want to do. You heard it in evidence at the phone-hacking trials.

"And the idea of a hotline is they can go to the regulator and say, look I’m being asked to write this kind of article, I’m being asked to stake this person out, I’m being asked to steal their information, and I don’t want to do it – what can I do? IPSO is supposed to have a hotline but doesn’t. It says in its founding documents it will have one but it doesn’t have it.”

Evan Harris, associate director of Hacked Off, said: “You can buy a hotline service from Public Concern at Work, it’s not difficult.

"And yet four months after IPSO was formed a journalist I spoke to yesterday said he tried to get confidential advice from IPSO and there was no one there who could provide that, no one in the building. This is four months on.”

He added: “That’s one example of why we don’t think IPSO, despite the personalities involved who can be quite engaging, is serious, even about what it said it would do.”

Tomlinson also stressed that The Guardian, Independent and Financial Times, which have so far rejected IPSO, should not be allowed to regulate themselves.

He said: “They’re not acting in bad faith, but I’m a barrister, I’m subject to professional regulation. I don’t think that I break the rules, but I have an independent body that decides whether I’m complying with the rules or not. And it seems to us perfectly proper that however much they try and obey the rules, The Guardian, The Independent, the Financial Times ought to be, along with the other newspapers, subject to the rulings of a truly independent self-regulator.”

Hacked Off: 'Astonishing' how little newspapers have changed

Joan Smith, executive director of Hacked Off, columnist and a phone-hacking target, told the committee that newspapers have shown little change in their behaviour despite recent scrutiny of their conduct,

She said: "We have been monitoring newspapers to see if there is any change in behaviour.

"What is frankly astonishing is how little the newspapers have changed."

The committee is inquiring into the issue of press regulation in the wake of Lord Justice Leveson's exhaustive inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press following the phone-hacking scandal.

Smith gave specific examples of stories she said intruded into people's privacy and said that in a case where The Sun admitted it was wrong to publish a story about a four-year-old boy who was said to have the "mark of the devil" on him , it ran an "absolutely tiny" statement about it on page two, when the original story was on pages one and five.

"In no sense is that anything like the prominence that this story got, and it doesn't recognise the damage it's done," she said.

No-one from IPSO was available to comment this morning.

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