Jonathan Coulter’s legal challenge to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO)

Jonathan outlines the case against IPSO below, and is crowdfunding here.  Please contribute generously.

One thing that makes this case particularly worthy of Lib Dem support is the involvement of the HackedOff Campaign, in which Lib Dems, including former MP Evan Harris and PPC Daisy Cooper, have played leading roles.  Hacked Off advocates tirelessly for the full implementation of Leveson’s recommendations, and is currently campaigning for full industry participation in the ‘Charter system’.  However the leading press barons are resisting this, and have created their own ‘self-regulatory’ body (IPSO) that is not fit for purpose. Both Labour and Lib Dems support full implementation of Leveson, but the Tory Government will not move forward.

In the case described below, we find the Murdoch papers intimidating people in a way that discourages them from speaking up, and that they are thereby closing down debate on an important question: where should Britain stand re Israel and Palestine?  It sets an awful precedent since the press can use similar tactics to stifle debate on other topics.

Outline of the case against IPSO – by Jonathan Coulter

On 25/10/16, The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) held a meeting in the House of Lords to launch a petition for Britain to apologise for repercussions of the Balfour Declaration.  Baroness Tonge was in the chair, there were four invited speakers and fourteen audience members also spoke.  The meeting went smoothly and Karl Sabbagh provided a carefully reasoned argument as to why Britain needed to apologise.

The Times (27/10 and 28/10) and Sunday Times (30/10) reported the meeting in a totally distorted and at times untruthful manner, making it look like a sort of anti-Semitic hate-fest.   A disproportionate amount of the reporting focused on a scarcely audible audience member, an orthodox rabbi of the Neturei Karta sect, who made a statement about the Holocaust which was completely at odds with the rest of the discussion.  Taken together, these three articles unjustly defamed everyone present, particularly Tonge who was promptly suspended by the Lib Dems, and subjected to a long House of Lords inquiry.

Thirty attendees, including myself, complained to IPSO, a ‘self-regulatory body’ that belongs to the UK’s leading newspaper groups.   IPSO upheld just one aspect of our complaint against The Times, allowing it to get away with retractions tucked away where they were unlikely to be read, but dismissed the bulk of our criticisms.

It is in the light of this that I have gone a step further and launched a Judicial Review challenging IPSO’s response.   I am concerned that the press is bullying people in such a way that they are reluctant to speak up, and that this is resulting in the de-facto suppression of debate.  I am working with the support of the Hacked Off Campaign which (while having no position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute) believes IPSO is a sham regulator, and agrees that IPSO’s rulings in the above case were so biased as to be irrational and unfair.

My main grounds for this JR are that IPSO unreasonably:

  • refused to accept part of the complaint on spurious grounds and even against its own rules
  • refused to accept my evidence that the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards had dismissed all the accusations that the meeting “had brought the House into disrepute”, and
  • misdirected itself on its own standards code, by deeming all opinion articles to be fact-free and by confusing the concepts of careless errors and significant errors.

The Court has already granted permission for me to proceed with the Judicial Review on all the grounds.  I am now crowdfunding to raise the necessary financial resources – you may contribute here.