IPSO Blog: Roadshow rolls in to Belfast

IPSO’s fourth roadshow took place in Belfast on Tuesday 24 October and was a fascinating evening of debate, comment and discussion with more than 70 people braving a miserable evening to come the Metropolitan Arts Centre

In the chair was the media veteran and expert Ray Snoddy and the panel consisted of IPSO Chairman Sir Alan Moses and three Northern Irish editors, Gail Walker from the Belfast Telegraph, Noel Doran of the Irish News and Alistair Bushe from the Newsletter.  

The audience was a mixture of journalists, students (mainly from the Ulster University journalism course – thanks for coming, guys!), PR professionals and members of the public with an interest in the media.

Northern Ireland is a unique media environment and we were fortunate to have Peter Feeney, the Press Ombudsman for Ireland and his Chair Sean Donlon in the audience. Because newspapers published in Belfast often have an audience south of the border, it was very interesting to hear discussion on the topic of cross-border jurisdiction with the professionals who deal with it on a daily basis. Specifically, the issue of copy-sharing with sister newspapers in the Irish Republic and the fact that regulatory codes of practice on both sides of the Irish border although similar, are different.

As with our roadshows in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, the theme of social media and its impact on the printed press quickly came to the fore. The general view from the panel and the audience who commented on it was that the social media giants were publishers rather than conduits for information and it was time for them to take responsibility as such.

Indeed, Peter Feeney recounted a chilling story of an Irish citizen who was house-hunting in a Dublin commuter town and was wrongly identified on Facebook by eagle-eyed locals as an alleged paedophile. Within minutes, a crowd gathered to literally run the poor man out of town and it was only, Peter explained, seven hours later that Facebook removed the post.

There was a mood in the audience that, no matter how impossible it might seem, companies like FB have to be persuaded to accept some form of voluntary regulation and Sir Alan repeated the assertion he made at the Glasgow roadshow that “commercial pressure and education will persuade the unregulated that they should be regulated.”  However, as Ray said from the Chair, “Whether Facebook and Google will ever get the importance of curation and regulation remains a moot point.”

One of the most striking statements on the subject of social media came from Gail who said that “Some days social media is like putting your hand in an open sewer.” And as if to prove she had a point, when that statement was tweeted, a degree of opprobrium came straight back at her…

The experience of being an editor on the wrong side of an IPSO ruling was also explored, with Alistair Bushe giving a personal insight into a complaint brought against the Portadown Times while he was working at the newspaper. Yes, it was a painful process but he acknowledged IPSO’s decision was fair and that the newspaper had learned from it.

The roadshows have been a great success I think are a sure sign that not only does our work matter but that people want to engage with us.

We’ll be doing more in 2018, so watch this space.