The Independent Press Standard’s Organisation’s investigation into The Sunday Mirror’s Brooks Newmark sting has been condemned for exposing the regulator’s weaknesses.
IPSO cleared the Sunday Mirror and Guido Fawkes reporter Alex Wickham of breaching the Editors’ Code over a sting in which former minister Brooks Newmark sent a lewd picture of himself to a reporter posing on Twitter as a “twenty something Tory PR girl”.
Because there was no complaint it appears that under IPSO rules it was not allowed to make a formal adjudication. And the Sunday Mirror’s involvement in the IPSO inquiry is understood to have been on a voluntary basis.
In January, IPSO chairman Sir Alan Moses told MPs he had urged press owners to “put a large amount of red pencil” through rules which allow publishers to “obfuscate and resist” investigations.
IPSO is currently in discussion with lawyers from publishing companies about changing rules which have been described by Moses as "opaque, sometimes self-contradictory, difficult to understand and sometimes difficult to find".
Evan Harris of the campaign group Hacked Off said that IPSO's investigation of the Brooks Newmark sting demonstrates its “impotence”.
He said: “IPSO's rules prevented it from adjudicating on the matter because Mark Pritchard MP withdrew his complaint after the Mirror made a donation and Newmark chose not to complain. The so-called ‘independent’ regulator could only start its subsequent quasi-investigation once it had negotiated limited permission from the Mirror.
“IPSO also had no power to get the information it needed from the Sunday Mirror to properly investigate the alleged use of subterfuge. Under IPSO’s own rules, the Mirror only had to provide information voluntarily – there was no requirement to hand over material that might incriminate themselves.
“Again, under its rules, IPSO was prevented from speaking to the freelance journalist who instigated the sting. The Mirror’s excuse for not handing over the information – ‘confidentiality’ – was spurious because IPSO had their own rules which would have respected the confidentiality. IPSO could not persuade the Mirror, and the Mirror was not required to comply.
“IPSO had no power to formally investigate; no power to adjudicate because their own rules don’t let them (unless Brooks Newmark himself complains); and no power to act if they had found against the Sunday Mirror. This was not an adjudication – the Sunday Mirror has reminded them that under their own rules they have no power to adjudicate.
“What we have is a no-man’s land of an informal investigation without any teeth or relevance. It also chose not to investigate the use of pictures of members of the public without their permission, despite their own public expressions of concern.
“IPSO has been left looking for a role and for relevance. Their attempt to show that they have a purpose and power has merely highlighted that in reality they don’t.”