Founder of Central European News (CEN) Michael Leidig launched Quis Custodiet (QC) this week after being frustrated by The Guardian’s in-house complaints service and finding that – unlike most national newspaper publishers in the UK – he had no outside body he could go to for independent adjudication.
Similarly, when Leidig was unhappy about a 2015 report about him by Buzzfeed News he found that the (now-defunct) publisher was not part of any regulation scheme so he had nowhere to take his complaint other than the courts.
The Guardian, Financial Times, Independent and Evening Standard are all unregulated after deciding not to join IPSO when it launched in 2014. All other national newspaper publishers pay to be members of IPSO which provides an independent view on whether they have breached the Editors’ Code it has the power to force publication of corrections and to dictate where they appear. Rival regulator Impress offers a similar service and is used by many independent publishers. Both also offer complainants the option of legal arbitration at a lower cost than going to court.
Impress has offered to look at Leidig’s disputes with both Buzzfeed and The Guardian, but so far both publishers have not engaged with the regulator (they would need to do so on a voluntary basis).
Leidig said QC will offer a “lifeline” to “victims of media mistakes and hatchet jobs”.
He said the service followed “eight fruitless years seeking justice for a slur against his business” by Buzzfeed UK.
Leidig tried and failed to sue Buzzfeed over a 2015 article which branded him “the king of bullshit news” after it said some of the stories distributed by his agency and sourced from around the world were false.
Now, frustrated by the Guardian’s own “opaque and complex” complaints procedure after he complained about a separate report, Leidig has launched QC, which he says will offer “a quick, trustworthy and affordable option for members of the public who have been wronged by the media”.
He said: “The high-minded Guardian is happy to lecture the rest of Fleet Street on the morals of the press, yet it is not a member of either of the print media’s regulatory bodies.
“QC will hold to account these unregulated media who believe themselves unaccountable. It will assess and then handle complaints for anyone who feels they have been dealt unjustly by any media who put themselves outside self-regulatory bodies.
“It doesn’t matter if the publishers refuse to cooperate with QC because the case and the evidence will be heard in their absence, and QC will publish the verdict. Quick, simple, transparent and at an infinitely lower cost than, say, a legal letter that will end up in the waste bin.
“QC will analyse the code of conduct of any unregulated media, we will match it against the story that is complained about, and within a few days, will offer an opinion which will go some way to quickly correcting injustices, or at least explaining how the media works to those unhappy with a story if we feel it did not breach the code.”
QC is an abbreviation of the latin “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, which translates to “who will guard the guardians themselves?”
What is Michael Leidig’s dispute with The Guardian?
Leidig’s dispute with The Guardian dates back to the publication of an article on 5 June 2019 about the death of Dutch teenager Noa Pothoven, who had been widely reported to have been “legally euthanised” in a clinic after suffering from depression and anorexia.
The Guardian’s story said these reports were wrong and that Pothoven had died at home after refusing food and drink.
The story cited Michael Leidig’s agency CEN as the source of the inaccurate reports which spread around the world and claimed Leidig did not respond to a request for comment.
Leidig said he was never contacted for comment, and contends that if he been he would have shared a follow-up story which corrected a mistake in the first breaking news story his agency published on the case.
The first CEN story stated that Pothoven had been euthanised at an End of Life Clinic. A second CEN story distributed within 24 hours of the first one described the case as instead “self-euthanasia”, noting that she died on a hospital bed at home after deciding to stop eating and drinking.
Leidig maintains that this was a kind of euthanasia because doctors allowed the girl to die without intervening.
The Guardian says a reporter did contact Leidig via the contact form on his website. Leidig contends that computer records show no request for comment was ever made.
He says The Guardian report was used by Buzzfeed to help ensure his defamation case appeal against the news website was thrown out in a New York court later in 2019.
Leidig’s initial 2019 complaint was met with an offer from The Guardian for him to send in a letter for publication which would be published at the editor’s discretion. He said he declined to pursue this because he wanted The Guardian to properly investigate the matter and he eventually made a complaint to The Guardian’s Review Panel in October 2022. He also wanted to have an agreed clarification published, rather than a wording which appeared at the editors’ discretion. He said the long delay before appealing to the Review Panel was because he was unaware of The Guardian’s internal review process for complaints.
A year later, The Review Panel finally rejected Leidig’s complaint.
Although The Guardian is not regulated, its complaints panel uses the IPSO Editors’ Code as the basis for its decisions, a document which is added to by The Guardian’s own editorial code.
Leidig’s initial complaint to the panel included concerns about fairness (right of reply), reliance on un-named sources, harassment (this related to his belief that the story emanated from Buzzfeed) and conflict of interest (this related to his contention that a Guardian journalist who formerly worked for Buzzfeed worked on the Guardian story and that the article was to the benefit of their former colleagues).
The Review Panel only ruled on the right of reply aspect of Ledig’s complaint. It did not correspond with Leidig or explain in its judgment why some aspects of his complaint were not considered.
Leidig and Press Gazette
Press Gazette has published numerous stories about Leidig’s long-running dispute with Buzzfeed.
Buzzfeed staff at one stage accused Press Gazette of “carrying water” for CEN and the publisher also considered seeking international judicial assistance which would have required Press Gazette to hand over confidential emails exchanged with Leidig. Press Gazette contends it acted on information supplied by sources as is standard journalistic practice.
The auth of this piece gave some advice to Leidig on a voluntary basis relating to his efforts to set up an NGO for freelance journalists called The Fourth Estate Alliance.
Who regulates CEN?
Asked whether CEN is itself regulated, Leidig said: “We tried to join IPSO but it’s too expensive. We offer every complainant the offer of arbitration with IPSO or Impress, we are also a member of NAPA that offers to investigate complaints about members. We don’t publish except on some basic websites with a handful of readers. But our partners do and we always participate fully in regulation via them. We have spent sometimes days answering complaints to regulators about stories we have filed.”
What does the Guardian say?
Press Gazette put Michael Leidig’s concerns to The Guardian. A spokesperson said: “Michael Ledig made a complaint that initially went to the Guardian readers editor and then the review panel. Details of the review panel’s judgement can be found here.”
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