Lack of independence from the newspaper industry is the key reason Guardian Media Group has given for refusing to sign up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Instead, currently it has to rely on its own complaints handling system which was today beefed up by the appointment of a review panel.
So in the first instance complainants must go to Readers’ Editor Chris Elliott, a long-serving Guardian staff journalist who is directly appointed by The Guardian’s owners – The Scott Trust.
If the complaint is not handled to the satisfaction of the complainant, instead of going to IPSO – they will have the option of going to the review panel.
This comprises: former Channel 4 News political editor Elinor Goodman, existing Guardian News and Media external ombudsman John Willis (chief executive of Mentorn Media) and lawyer Geraldine Proudler who is a former member of the Scott Trust.
The panel is directly appointed by the Scott Trust.
The Guardian panel can “recommend a range of remedies, including corrections, alteration or removal of content, deletion, apologies and/or providing a right of reply”.
Whereas critical IPSO adjudications must be published with “due prominence” by erring publications – recommendations from the Guardian review panel must be published “in the same area of circulation of the paper and/or website used by the Readers’ Editor office”.
Unlike IPSO, the review panel does not appear to have the power to launch its own investigations and levy fines.
It seems that The Guardian’s solution to its problems with IPSO, in the short-term, is to set up its own complaints handling system which is even less independent and less powerful.
Early in the New Year a second press regulation body, IMPRESS, is likely to be up and running – which will be more independent from the journalism industry.
But if, as seems likely, IMPRESS goes for official recognition under the Royal Charter this would make it as unpalatable as IPSO for Guardian Media Group.
The Guardian has described the Royal Charter a “constitutional train crash” but rejected IPSO because “industry tentacles” reach into it.
Liz Forgan, chair of The Scott Trust, said in a statement today: “The appointment of the review panel will further strengthen Guardian News & Media’s tried and tested readers’ editor system by providing complainants with the opportunity for a review. We continue to discuss future regulation with the new industry regulator and other relevant parties, and will review our position on an ongoing basis."
If The Guardian is to maintain moral authority on press standards and regulation it is going to have to hold its nose and sign up to one of the external regulation bodies eventually.
Because it is not sustainable to champion independent press regulation for others whilst having no external regulator yourself.
Note: Guardian News and Media has emphasised that the review panel is not intended to be a regulator but is an "interim" step, while it considers its "long term options".