Newspapers are unlikely to be hit with £1m fines by the new watchdog regulating the press, its chairman has said.
Sir Alan Moses, who leads the Independent Press Standards Organisation, insisted the body will come "armed with a slim, clear book of rules and not with an iron fist" when it tackles complaints.
- March 25, 2021
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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, Moses 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."
Moses 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," Moses said.
The vast majority of newspapers have signed up to IPSO, which replaces the Press Complaints Commission, with The Guardian, Independent titles, Evening Standard and Financial Times among notable absentees.
Campaign group Hacked Off has accused the organisation of being a "sham".
Moses 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 per cent 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."
Moses 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.
Moses 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."
Moses said that he was aware the regional press, "with so few resources", is concerned about the prospect of "providing financial redress in modest sums to those who cannot afford to go to court".
He said: "There is no reason why a trial scheme should not be put in place which excludes the regional press."
The IPSO chair said that it is "remarkable and should be a source not just of wonder but of pride that so diverse a number of publications… should come together at all and agree to be bound by a code of conduct, by a set of short and powerful standards".
He said: "For the first time ever, newspapers and magazines have reached agreement to come under the jurisdiction of an independent regulator, and to be bound, legally, by the regulator’s decisions as to whether they have breached the standards they have set themselves or whether they have not.
"And it should be a source of praise, not of criticism. That what should have been received with undiluted praise has had if not cold at least tepid water poured over it, may, however, be due to two particular features."
Commenting on the speech, Hacked Off's Dr Evan Harris said: “Sir Alan Moses failed to show in his speech that the legitimacy of IPSO comes not from colourful oratory, the personality of the chairman, or the assertions of independence in the face of a flawed, industry-controlled, appointments process, or by a tinkering with the processes.
“Legitimacy for those you are supposed to serve, the public, will come from whether IPSO complies with the Leveson criteria set out down by a senior judge after an exhaustive 14 month inquiry, endorsed by a democratically-elected Parliament, bound the terms of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act and is independently audited as doing so.
“Until then IPSO – like the PCC whose staff, rules, premises and industry control are the same as IPSO’s – will rightly be seen as a sham regulator and will be another failure.”