Press watchdog Ipso says David Cameron 'promised the Earth to media victims' but could not deliver

'We want a free, fair, unruly press,' Sir Alan Moses tells newspaper executives in speech

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The new press watchdog has criticised the Government for having “promised the Earth” to victims of media intrusion and acknowledged the “despair and anger, the misery and rage” that ensued “when that promise was not delivered”.

In a speech to newspaper executives tonight, Sir Alan Moses, the chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), admitted the body appeared “like a sham” to distressed victims. He appealed to the industry to help him reform the regulator to give it greater credibility.

The former judge stressed that he wished to regulate “with a slim, clear book of rules and not with an iron fist”, and told his audience: “We do not want a boring defensive press – we want a free, fair, unruly press”. However, he warned that “Ipso will damn” those that flagrantly break the rules.

He argued that the industry had agreed to the setting up of a new independent regulator because it realised its future depended on the authority and the trust it could bring. “You have understood that come the day when no one believes in you, when you are no more than a woebegone troll, no one will want you.”

The watchdog’s criticism of the Government’s pledges on press regulation made a direct reference to a promise by David Cameron that everything in Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry recommendations would be introduced, provided the report did not propose “anything that is bonkers”.

Sir Alan, who was addressing the Society of Editors annual conference in Southampton, said victims “were promised the Earth not by me, not by you, but by Government. Whatever was not bonkers would be delivered.”

He went on: “You cannot be surprised at the despair and anger, the misery and rage that continues when that promise was not delivered. And [victims] have waited and waited and finally have been given what, shrouded by their veil of tears, looks to them like a sham.”

In his first speech to the press industry, Sir Alan said Ipso would be judged by “the strength and independence of its procedures” and the “clarity and effectiveness of its process”, and not by the sheer number of complaints it handled.

He also criticised the simplistic suggestion that Ipso would be respected because it had the power to fine papers up to £1m, and said the rules on such a punishment were too complex. “Proper successful independent regulation will not be established by manic firing of a big bazooka, and anyway we don’t know how to fire it. The instruction booklet for the use of so novel a weapon is rather too complicated for we ordinary mortals at Ipso to understand.”

Drawing on his experience as a former Court of Appeal judge, Sir Alan also spoke up in favour of the European Court of Human Rights, which is consistently criticised by some newspapers. “I would not if I were you be too ready to quit the safeguards the Strasbourg Court has traditionally and continually offered the press,” he told the audience.

While he acknowledged that “mistakes and errors of judgment will always occur” in a busy press, he warned the newspaper executives: “If you do so deliberately, flagrantly, without caring one jot whether you break the code or not, Ipso will damn you.”

IPSO has advertised for three lay representatives to sit on the Editors’ Code Committee, which draws up the standards under which the press operates. The inclusion of lay members on the committee was a Leveson recommendation.