IPSO Blog: Examining IPSO’s latest ruling on user-generated comments

Following a recent upheld complaint against oxfordmail.co.uk, Communications & Public Affairs Officer Hanno Fenech explains how IPSO regulates reader comments online.

The digital revolution has changed the ways in which we interact with the news. Unlike past times, news readers can instantly react by leaving comments online. Allowing for reader comments online, often referred to as “user-generated comments”, is a principal means by which news publishers engage their readers.

IPSO’s regulation covers everything a newspaper or magazine publishes which is within ‘editorial discretion’; meaning, anything that editors have control over, such as stories and features, rather than advertising, for example.

While most publications do not pre-moderate user-generated comments, IPSO’s regulation does apply to comments under news articles so long as these comments can be moderated by the publication. Comments brought to the publication’s attention as potential breaches of the Editors’ Code of Practice are within IPSO’s remit. IPSO can and does consider complaints about user-generated material through our complaints process.

A recent example of this in action is the ruling in Wadeson v oxfordmail.co.uk.

John Wadeson complained to IPSO that oxfordmail.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code by failing to remove a reader comment published beneath an article about guns owned in the Thames Valley. In this case, the complainant had contacted the newspaper on three occasions via different channels in attempts to draw their attention to the inaccuracy of the anonymous comment, but failed to receive a response. Following his complaint to IPSO, the publication removed the comment and banned the commenter.

In their ruling on the complaint, the IPSO Complaints Committee made clear that IPSO’s regulatory remit applies to user-generated comments. The Committee found that the comment was inaccurate and that having failed to take remedial action, the publication had not taken care over the accuracy of the information under its editorial control. This was a significant breach of the Editors’ Code, so the Committee required oxfordmail.co.uk publish an adjudication, a long-form ruling of the Committee’s decision.

Although most user-generated comments are positive, linking together like-minded individuals and communities while encouraging debate and feedback, through this ruling and others, IPSO continues to enforce the high standards required by the Editors’ Code of Practice, offering vital recourse for those who feel the Code has been breached.

Find the full ruling in this case here Wadeson v. oxfordmail.co.uk

For more information on reader posted comments, click here.

If you are interested in further rulings dealing with user-generated comments, see below:

A woman vs Press Gazette
Evans v The Argus (Brighton)
Miller v Mail Online