Chairman of press regulator IPSO has said that Sun editor Tony Gallagher was a “lousy advocate” when he appeared on Radio 4 to complain about a ruling which went against him.
And he said The Guardian shows an “almost unimaginable piety” for refusing to join in the system of self regulation which most newspaper and magazine publishers have signed up to.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation launched in September 2014, replacing the discredited Press Complaints Commission which was found to have failed to deal adequately with the News of the World hacking scandal.
Speaking on Press Gazette’s Journalism Matters podcast, Moses hit back at those who say IPSO is not independent of the industry and insisted it had raised standards among its member publishers.
He said: “This regulator works in a way that no press regulator ever has before. Through contract. The vast majority of the press has signed up to a contract.
“This gives IPSO enforceable powers…They set up a set of rules and regulations by which they are bound under contracts.
“Nobody is suggesting licensing or a system of state control except those who share the tastes of the Lubyanka in Russia.”
He said that newspapers could have a statutory regulator like Ofcom or the Bar Standards Board, “but you could only do that through licensing and no-one had tried to licence the press since 1640.”
He said the independence of IPSO was guaranteed until the current publisher contracts run out in 2020. He said: “One of the real challenges is getting people to sign up again. And the critics have to face that.”
Insisting that press standards have improved under IPSO, he said: “How we are operating now, and how newsrooms are operating, is radically different from the past.
“I think they take us much more seriously, they take the importance of dealing with it much more seriously and they hate being dictated to by us when they’ve got something wrong.
“That then leads to, as an important consequence, that they think far more seriously about what they are doing than they did before…
“When a newspaper got a complaint under an old voluntary system which had no powers and no contract the great thing was to put it off and hope the complainant would get exhausted and go away. That’s simply not possible now.
“It has to be dealt with first between the newspaper and the complainant within a maximum time period of 28 days after which it’s ours. The fact of that matter is we get on with it which is a very big change in attitude to regulation.”
Moses said he did not think papers such as the Telegraph, which have committed multiple breaches of the Editors’ Code (nine) under IPSO, were “deliberately flouting” the code.
He said: “One would have to analyse each breach. A lot of them are due to editorial errors. Just sloppy thinking or carelessness from the sub editors – not malice.
“If you are a newspaper which is struggling to maintain your manpower, struggling to maintain your circulation, all these pressures then create the sort of errors of which we speak.”
He insisted that editors do care deeply when IPSO adjudications go against them, and said that forcing them to publish those rulings was an effective punishment.
He said: “Like all those who purport to exercise power the one thing they don’t like is someone telling them what to do.
“One of the great surprises to me was how sensitive they were if you started wagging your finger at them. We’ve seen it in some of the reactions to our adjudications, we’ve seen it in the period before we reach a decision we get letters from their managing editors and lawyers…they really hate it.
“When we say this has got to go on the front page, or you have to say this, the remarkable thing is that they then do it without further demure.”
He said that uniquely, IPSO is able to dictate where the published adjudications appear, even down to the point size, thanks to the contract-backed system.
Asked about what he thought of those titles, including Guardian News and Media, who refused to sign up to any system of press regulation he said: “So far as The Guardian is concerned, before I ever applied for this job one of the few editors I knew was Alan Rusbridger and I talked to him about it and had some very helpful and useful advice from him.
“We went through a list things they wanted us to do before they would sign up and every one of which I think we have done.
“It’s quite apparent to me that they don’t want to join because of their attitude to the others that have. It’s nothing to do with us or the way we are operating, it’s entirely to do with their views.
“I think if The Guardian purports to be someone interested in raising press standards I find it of an almost unimaginable piety to say we won’t join in and try and improve it ourselves.
“Why don’t they want to nominate somebody to our board? Why don’t they want to improve, if they think it can be improved, the Editors’ Code?
“They’ve made a commercial judgment that their readers and their constituents wouldn’t like it if they joined us. I don’t think it’s anything to with us.”
Last month The Sun was ordered by IPSO to publish a front-page correction after it ruled that the front-page headline “QUEEN BACKS BREXIT” was inaccurate.
Sun editor Tony Gallagher went on Radio 4 after the IPSO decision was made to say that he did not agree with it and that he would do the same thing again.
Asked about this, Moses said: “I thought he was a lousy advocate. It sounded such a bad defence.
“The reason he was there, editors don’t like going on broadcasters, was because we obviously needled him so much. He obviously felt the need, so nettled was he by what we’d done, to put in his defence.
“What he meant was he would publish the story again, about which there had been no adjudication, he wouldn’t publish a misleading headline.
“I think they hated it, but they did it – they obeyed. The argument before we made our ruling was very vigorously conducted and there are still people there who’s views I respect who thought we got it wrong.
“Their defence was that this was a jokey piece of hyperbole, nobody could take it seriously, that’s what we didn’t agree with.”
Asked whether Buckingham Palace was advised by IPSO to complain purely about the headline, rather than the story, he said: “The Palace did not narrow the complaint. It was always a complaint about the headline.
“They raised issues about the story then pursued the headline aspect of it. It was nothing to with advice from us.”
Asked whether he will vote Leave or Remain, he said: “I’m not allowed to say. I will say this about it, I detect a feeling by the public that they feel they have been sold short on the quality of the debate and the quality of the material on which they are supposed to make a judgment by both sides.
“They are fed by hyperbole and exaggeration on both sides -the newspapers merely reflect the quality of the debate by the politicians. I’ve found it a deeply dispiriting experience about which I feel enormous misery really.”