IPSO Blog: Using knowledge and data in our standards monitoring work

Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin introduces our press standards monitoring work, which we've now made publicly available to improve transparency about how we deal with complaints made under Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code.

The aspect of IPSO’s work that gets most public attention is complaints handling: we make headlines when we receive a large number of complaints, or when our Complaints Committee upholds – or decides not to uphold – a high-profile complaint. Providing complainants with a proper investigation of their concerns, and redress when the Editors’ Code has been breached, is of course, a very important part of IPSO’s role in serving the public and upholding press standards. Behind the scenes, however, we have a broader commitment to press standards which goes far beyond complaints handling. 

We use knowledge and data from daily work with complaints, wide monitoring of the media landscape and engagement with groups interested in coverage of particular issues to track patterns and identify areas of potential concern to provide targeted interventions to raise press standards. 

We know that there is a lot of interest in our monitoring work, and up to now there has been much less information available to the public about this. While it is still important that we retain confidentiality in relation to some aspects of our regulatory work, we always aim to be as transparent as possible. With that in mind, we have started to publish quarterly information in relation to two key areas of interest: 

Complaints about discrimination 

In recent months there has been significant debate and discussion about the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code and how our Complaints Committee applies the Code to the complaints we receive. We believe that more transparency about Clause 12 and how it applies to individual complaints will help to inform this discussion. 

Clause 12 says that the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. It also states that these details should not be included in a story unless they are genuinely relevant. 

Yesterday, 26 politicians wrote to us raising concerns about racism and Islamophobia in the press. There are no easy answers to the question of how to strike a balance between the freedom of a journalist to or newspaper to offend a group while protecting individuals. But we are keen to engage with any organisations or individuals interested in reporting in this area and want to do more to inform that engagement and discussion.  

Broader standards monitoring work 

Our complaints monitoring involves looking at a sample of all complaints closed in a particular quarter. The sample includes the following: 

  • all complaints considered by our Complaints Committee 
  • all complaints where we mediated a resolution between the complainant and publication 
  • all complaints resolved directly between the complainant and publication without our involvement 
  • all third party complaints which suggest a concern about editorial standards. 

This sampling approach means we can gather a rich and robust body of evidence to help it to understand editorial standards. The sample is analysed and then reviewed by members of our Liaison Committee, which brings together members of our Board and Complaints Committee, and reports into our Board. 

We use this monitoring to inform the work that we do to raise editorial standards, which can include producing guidance, delivering training in newsrooms or working with individual publishers. 

We are certainly not complacent about our work on editorial standards. We work, and continue to work, to improve them by engaging with community groups, parliamentarians, and with the newspapers we regulate. Find out more about our monitoring work here. 


Originally published 1 March 2019.