This blog was originally published by the Association of Online Publishers as part of their CRUNCH series on misinformation and disinformation.
The publishing landscape is becoming more and more complex, and for consumers, finding and recognising quality content from trusted sources is more challenging than ever.
IPSO is the regulator of most newspapers and magazines in the UK. Regulated publishers are bound to an agreed set of standards under the Editors’ Code of Practice and are accountable to IPSO as their independent regulator through legally enforceable contracts. IPSO’s jurisdiction extends across publishers’ online editorial content, covering news articles as well as comments left by users in comment sections on publisher websites. In this way, although IPSO itself is not a publisher, it is a major regulator of information online and is therefore critically invested in quality digital content.
Part of IPSO’s work aims to raise recognition of quality content and trusted sources by promoting media literacy and the IPSO Mark. Media literacy is key because it allows people to critically evaluate and understand their information sources. The IPSO Mark, a visual symbol used by all IPSO-regulated publications in print and online, ensures people can recognise information from professional publishers accountable to external regulation. Distinguishing curated content from the morass of unregulated content on the internet gives assurances against disinformation and fake news.
When thinking about mis and disinformation, considering intent is crucial. Misinformation is communicated without the intention to deceive, while disinformation refers to deliberately deceptive information. This is very different from making “mistakes”, which of course happens to all publishers from time to time. Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code sets a high – but not impossibly high – bar for the accuracy of information. The Code does not demand infallibility, which is in any case rare, but it does require that care be taken to ensure accuracy based on the information available at the time, and when a significant inaccuracy is made, prompt action be taken to offer correction and make amends.
Regulating accuracy has some inherent difficulties here, as sorting through what is “true” depends on levels of certainties in what we believe. For instance, contrarian views can become mainstream when more data is available, as we have seen happen during the coronavirus pandemic. What is important is what we do with the potential risks from misinformation, be they to free expression or, in the age of Covid-19, to public health. Here again, news publishers are distinguished by their accountability to an external regulator offering recourse and correction.
Today, misinformation can spread much more quickly via the internet. Even though IPSO-regulated news publishers have committed themselves to independent regulation and correcting mistakes where they are significant, the internet poses an additional problem for news publishers through the loss of control of content once it is published. Accurate content about challenging issues can still be used for harmful purposes, or as the basis for harmful comments and harassment. There is a concerning risk to free expression here, as journalists stop covering certain topics because they are afraid their work could be used for the wrong purposes.
Ultimately, the only way forward is to recognise that issues surrounding the dissemination of information have always been challenging, but that now more than ever transparency is essential. For our part, IPSO will continue to transparently regulate the UK press by ensuring high editorial standards of accuracy and protecting individuals from harm while upholding the fundamental public interest in free expression.