IPSO Blog: Prominence and Proportionality

‘Proportionality’ is a word much used by regulators. It is right that regulators should only intervene when necessary and that any actions they take should be proportionate to the issue they are trying to address. Step too far, and regulators risk imposing too heavy a burden on those they regulate and damaging the relationship between regulator and regulated. But regulators who take insufficient action may lose the trust of the public if they are not seen to respond appropriately to standards failures. It’s a fine balance.

When we think about proportionality, we are most often thinking about it in relation to complaints considered by our Complaints Committee. Under the standards that we uphold, the Editors’ Code of Practice, publications must publish remedies to breaches of the Code with ‘due prominence’.

 Proportionality is subjective and will mean different things to different people. Understandably, some complainants who have suffered from a breach of the Code may feel that, unless the newspaper is made to publish the correction or adjudication on the front page, the failure has not been addressed. But the satisfaction of the complainant is not the only point that we need to think about.

We support freedom of expression as a general principle. We therefore do take seriously the fact that when we require publication of a remedy, we are limiting an editor’s freedom of expression. It is only right to limit freedom of expression where this is justified in order to achieve something. In this case, it is justified to provide redress to the complainant, but this requires a careful balancing. To decide what is right in an individual case, we must consider the whole circumstances, including the seriousness of the breach and where it appeared.

Over time, as our Complaints Committee has considered more complaints, we have developed some principles that help to guide our general approach on prominence. In response to a recommendation from Sir Joseph Pilling in his review of IPSO’s independence and to help editors, we have produced some guidance which sets out our approach on prominence.

This guidance explains how IPSO makes decisions on the prominence with which editors must publish remedies to breaches of the Editors’ Code of Practice. This guidance is aimed at editors who want to understand IPSO’s approach and is designed to raise editorial standards. It focuses on points for editors to consider and gives examples of how IPSO applies the due prominence rule.

I know that prominence is an area of an interest to the general public, as well as to editors. With this in mind we will publish information later this year specifically for members of the public interested in our approach.