IPSO shows it has backbone with Sun Brexit ruling, but editor's defiance undermines press self regulation

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IPSO today dealt a blow to those who have claimed the press regulator is the industry’s “poodle” with a critical adjudication which has clearly left its biggest member newspaper fuming.

But Sun editor Tony Gallagher has also dealt a blow to the credibility of press self regulation by refusing to accept that he did something wrong.

The “QUEEN BACKS BREXIT” front page headline was qualified, he says, by the strapline: “EXCLUSIVE: BOMBSHELL CLAIM OVER EUROPE VOTE”.

But the press watchdog says the main headline was “significantly misleading” because it was not backed up by the article.

In my view IPSO is right. The comments date back to 2011 (before the term Brexit was even coined). The Queen reportedly told attendees at the Windsor Castle lunch that the EU was “heading in the wrong direction” and to have said angrily “I don’t understand Europe”.

This is all a long way from saying that she backs Britain leaving the EU. And in any case she may well have changed her mind since then, so The Sun was at least wrong to use the present tense.

Gallagher has made the point that the paper knew more than it put in the article. But he would also know that the headline has to be based solely on the content of the piece.

IPSO has shown it has teeth by taking on its most powerful member organisation and forcing it to publish a correction on page two, flagged up on page one. Its forerunner the PCC had no power to direct the placement of published adjudications.

It also deserves credit for getting this dealt with quickly, ahead of next month’s EU referendum.

But editors need to take on board the judgments of IPSO if self regulation is to work.

I think most would probably accept that Gallagher gave his Sun headline a tad too much top-spin.

It was a good story by Tom Newton Dunn. But even he, in his accompanying comment piece, did not go as far as to suggest that it showed the Queen backed Brexit.

If tabloid newspapers in particular are ever to recover the public trust which was lost in the wake of the hacking scandal, editors like Gallagher need to take on board critical IPSO adjudications and learn from them.

And he at least needs to give the impression that he takes his punishment seriously if self regulation is to survive and not be replaced by the Royal Charter-backed system still favoured by Labour the Lib Dems.

By stating, as he did today, that the judgment would not stop him publishing the same headline again he was effectively saying that IPSO is powerless to influence the editor of its leading member publication.

Despite his defiant words I think IPSO’s judgment will have an impact on Gallagher and other editors in future. No-one likes being publicly hauled over the coals in the way The Sun was today.

It is right that editors try to push front-page headlines to make them as interesting as possible. But is also in the best interests of the industry (and the credibility of national newspaper journalism) for IPSO to act as a check on editors to make sure they don’t push headlines too far.

Any criticism of Gallagher has to be tempered by the fact that The Sun’s membership of IPSO puts it in an infinitely superior moral position to the likes of The Guardian, Independent and Financial Times who all hypocritically decline to have any external complaints process whatsoever (despite being leading critics of the old PCC).

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