FT favours one rule for itself, and another for everyone else, when it comes to press regulation

The Financial Times “supports efforts to create a more robust system of independent regulation for the industry in the wake of the Leveson inquiry”.

But not, it would seem, to the extent of signing up to the new regulator itself.

Instead, the FT will be appointing its own editorial complaints commissioner. Appointed by a three-person committee this person will be, the FT says, independent of the editor.

The FT is a global news organisation which sells less than a third of its 230,000 print circulation in the UK. Most of its readers in print and online are outside the UK.

It is has the cleanest record of any national newspaper when it comes to Press Complaints Commission transgressions.

So its position is understandable if contradictory.

Like The Guardian and The Independent, the FT has previously expressed concern that the successor body to the Press Complaints Commission is not sufficiently independent.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation is set to take over from the PCC at the start of June.

The press industry appears to have a veto over the soon-to-be announced choice of chair of IPSO, via its two representatives on the five-person recruitment panel.

The Regulatory Funding Company, which represents owners and publishers, has a say over the five industry members of the 12-person IPSO board. The RFC also convenes the Editors’ Code Committee and helps decide on the five industry representatives on the 12-person complaints committee.

The FT, Guardian and Independent titles are the only national newspapers yet to sign up to IPSO. The Guardian has said it fears IPSO will be controlled by the biggest publishers (the Mail titles, the Telegraph and News UK) via the RFC.

But is the FT’s system really better? Are ordinary members of the public with legitimate gripes likely to get a fairer hearing from one person employed by the FT than they are from a 12-person jury comprising six independents, a non-industry chairman and five representatives (not editors) drawn from across the press industry?

The advantage of the PCC (and soon IPSO) is that it provides ordinary people who feel they have been wronged by the media with redress via an independent third-party which has real weight with publishers.

Without it, complaints which don’t have lawyers behind them can be ignored by busy editors.

The bigger picture is that politically, without a robust system of press regulation we would be facing new statutory controls on the media which could curb the journalistic freedom of the FT and everyone else in the UK.

I would have thought that a better solution for those who fear IPSO will be controlled by the big three national newspaper publishers would be for them to band to together and set up their own truly independent complaints body. 

It seems obvious to me that for any system of press regulation to work it has to be transparent. The FT's new system fails so far on that score.

I asked the FT a number of questions:

What was it that stopped the FT joining IPSO? The FT has always said it favours robust independent press regulation in the wake of Leveson – and indeed says so in the letter published last week. So why not sign up to IPSO. Does the FT have specific concerns about IPSO? Ie. Cost? Independence?

Will it still be adhering to the Editors’ Code of Practice? Or will it be using its own editorial code? If the latter, is one in existence publicly – or will one be published?

Can you shed any more light on what the powers of the new ombudsman will be? Will he or she act like the PCC and have the power to compel publication of critical adjudications?

Will the new person be an FT employee? Can you shed any more light on how their independence will be guarded – particularly the appointments procedure. Ie. Who will be on the appointments panel?

An FT spokesperson declined to answer my questions saying: 

Our approach and rationale are explained in the letter. Further detail on the set up will be announced in due course.

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