The toothless puppet rolls over for its masters (again)
Your professional reputation has been trashed by a national newspaper, you have complained to IPSO and – after eight long months – you have won your case and received a promise that a correction will appear on page 2 of the paper.
Imagine your surprise, then, when you find that it’s not there, and that for some reason the little paragraph explaining to the world that you are not in reality a ‘rogue’ and a ‘cowboy’ responsible for harmful ‘botched’ work actually appears six pages farther back in the paper, on page 8.
And imagine your further surprise when, in response to your protest about this, IPSO explains that, without consulting you, it agreed to the moving of the correction because that is what suited the newspaper.
This is what happened to Danielle Hindley, a self-employed beautician working in Leeds. If you ever wanted proof that IPSO, supposedly ‘the toughest press regulator in the western world’, operates for the benefit of the industry and reserves its toughness for people who bring complaints, you need look no further than the treatment dished out to Ms Hindley.
Last December she found herself the subject of ‘Case Study 1’ in a Mail on Sunday investigation into the ‘Curse of the Cosmetic Cowboys’. As a consequence, she says, many clients deserted her, she fell into debt and she became so depressed she could not work, while her son was taunted and mocked in school.
In a ruling this July, IPSO upheld her complaint that the Mail on Sunday had breached the Editors’ Code of Practice by publishing inaccurate information about her. The article, it stated, was 'significantly misleading' and the paper simply did not have evidence to show wrongdoing or reckless conduct by Ms Hindley. The paper was ordered to print a correction and the instructions were unequivocal: ‘This correction should appear on page 2 of the newspaper.’
That is not what happened, and when Hindley asked IPSO why the correction had not appeared on page 2 she received a remarkable response. The newspaper, she was told, had asked for the switch on the day before publication on the grounds that it had a big news story appearing over its first few pages and didn’t want the correction getting in the way. And IPSO had told them to go ahead.*
Does it matter? Does it make a difference that the correction appeared six pages further into the paper? Yes, for two reasons.
First, it matters to Ms Hindley, who – entirely reasonably – wanted the greatest possible prominence for a correction that she hoped would help restore her reputation and enable her to start rebuilding her business. She wanted as many Mail on Sunday readers as possible to see that, far from being a cowboy operator, she was in fact a trained specialist legally entitled to carry out the procedures she offered and she wanted them to know that there was no basis to the claim that she had ‘botched’ treatments.
And if you are wondering whether page 2 really is more prominent than page 8 the answer is supplied by the Mail on Sunday itself. It had a big story and it preferred page 2 for that story because readers were more likely to notice it there. In other words, the paper acknowledged that page 2 was more prominent than page 8, and with IPSO's blessing it relegated Ms Hindley’s correction to the latter.
A feeble sanction
It also matters for reasons to do with journalistic standards and the protection of the public in general. Since IPSO never imposes fines (though we were told when it was set up that it would) the only sanction it can apply to errant newspapers – that is, the only means it has of putting pressure on them to observe the code – is to make them publish corrections.
It is a feeble sanction and has been proved over nearly three decades to be incapable of making editors pay serious attention to the code, but it is better than nothing providing the corrections have what is called 'due prominence'.
It was IPSO itself that originally decided that her correction was worthy of page 2. Yet when the paper called to say it had something better to do with page 2, IPSO just rolled over.
And let’s be clear: the correction was not large, indeed considering the offence it was pitifully small and grudging – fewer than 100 words in length and occupying just 14 lines of text. There was also no headline and, significantly, no apology, because it’s plain the Mail on Sunday was not sorry.
Any regulator worthy of the name would surely have told the paper when it called that Saturday that it should cut out the prevarication and get on with it – in other words, that it should print the correction, as ordered, on page 2. If that meant squeezing out 14 measly lines of text from its big story to make room, then that was part of the price an unrepentant paper should pay for trashing someone’s reputation without justification.
The sham regulator, however, simply gave the Mail on Sunday what it wanted. And it did so without seeking Ms Hindley’s views or even informing her. It just let her find out when she opened the paper.
It’s a vivid reminder that IPSO cares more for the convenience of the big newspapers that are its owners than it does for the interests of ordinary members of the public who complain. And it’s a warning: if you ever take a case to IPSO and they say your correction will appear on a certain page, you can’t believe them.
* The Mail on Sunday proposed, as an alternative, that the correction might run on page 2 a week later, but this shabby choice was never put to Ms Hindley. IPSO decided on her behalf. By this time, it should be noted, there had already been very significant delay for which Ms Hindley bore no responsibility: eight months had passed since the offence and more than a month since the IPSO ruling. The paper, moreover, had waited until the Saturday to raise this.