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September 23, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:21am

IPSO exempts overseas content published by UK news websites from code guidelines

By Charlotte Tobitt

Content primarily aimed at overseas readers published by UK-based news websites with newsrooms in other countries, such as Mail Online, is now formally exempt from complying with IPSO guidelines.

Previous rules meant the Independent Press Standards Organisation could decide whether or not it should investigate online stories from members classed as “global digital publishers” on a case-by-case basis.

But new rules removing this discretion have been voted on and approved by IPSO’s 81 publisher members – the vast majority of major UK national titles.

It can now only regulate content aimed at international readers if it meets certain conditions under the Editor’s Code of Practice:

  • If it relates to events within the UK,
  • If it is based on material that has been published in a UK print title within the same publisher’s group
  • If it concerns a UK national, or resident at the time of publication, who was “directly and personally affected” by the alleged code breach.

IPSO said the changes have strengthened the complaints process.

Chief executive Matt Tee (pictured) said: “The new rules around global digital publishers reflect the significant changes that have taken place in the industry around online content.”

A major catalyst for a review of the rules was a 2015 Mail Online story about Scientology leader David Miscavige.

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After Miscavige claimed the story about his “bromance” with actor Tom Cruise was inaccurate, Mail Online declined to defend itself because, it argued, the story complied with US law and conventions and was outside IPSO’s remit.

The publisher said most of the individuals mentioned in the article were American, the events had taken place in America and the piece was commissioned, written and edited by journalists working for its US edition.

IPSO upheld the complaint, forcing Mail Online to publish a correction.

But Mail Online continued to argue that the “general principle” that such US-focused articles were not in the regulator’s jurisdiction was a condition it had put on its decision to sign up.

When a review of the rules was first launched in 2016, Tee said that when they were first drafted in 2013 it was “difficult to imagine… the developments that would take place in digital publishing, with some publishers having numerous editorial bureaux across the world focused on different audiences in different time zones”.

Tee also raised concerns at the time that the rules could be a disincentive to other global digital publishers joining IPSO in the UK.

He announced the proposed changes to the rules in November 2017, and IPSO members were told they had finally been adopted earlier this month.

The press regulator also said it has strengthened its complaints process by adding a rule confirming it can investigate complaints received after the usual time period – within four months, or 12 months if an article remains online – if the complaint was made in time to the publisher itself and remains active.

The regulator has also added an expectation that publishers should use its “IPSO mark” on all its websites and print products to “denote their membership and commitment to high quality journalism”.

Tee said: “These changes have been proposed after extensive consultation with publishers and bodies like the News Media Association and Professional Publishers Association.

“They command widespread support across the industry will allow us to provide a more effective service to the public.”

IPSO has guaranteed its financial independence until 2025 after agreeing a new funding arrangement with the Regulatory Funding Company.

“Having certainty over our income underlines our independence and guarantees our freedom from control or influence,” Tee added.

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