IPSO has responded to articles about a draft of guidance on reporting of Islam and Muslims.
Will Heaven’s article on IPSO’s proposed guidance on reporting Islam (6 September) is misleading.
IPSO guidance is not “rules”, the “rulebook” or part of the Editors’ Code that we uphold; rather it focuses on key questions that journalists could ask themselves when writing about Islam. Journalists at The Telegraph may not feel the need for such guidance, but the majority of publications regulated by IPSO are local papers, often produced with a small, less experienced staff who may value such assistance.
Heaven also alleges the guidance is being drafted by a ‘secret committee’. It is not. We are taking views from a variety of sources which, of course, include people from Muslim organisations, but also include newspaper editors and journalists. The proposed guidance is drafted by IPSO staff and only IPSO staff.
As your editorial says, “Journalists must be free to report the truth and commentators to provide analysis that reflects their conscience, rooted in the facts.” IPSO is a staunch defender of freedom of expression and has no intention of placing restrictions on it beyond the Editors’ Code.
There is, however, a danger that journalists do not exercise full freedom of expression for fear of breaching the Editors’ Code. IPSO guidance is designed to help journalists to be confident in what they are writing; far from stifling journalism and freedom of expression, it is intended to enhance it.
Letter published 7 September in The Telegraph letters section
Will Heaven's article "In the balance" is misleading on IPSO’s role and the development of its guidance on reporting of Islam.
IPSO's role as press regulator is to uphold the highest professional standards. In doing so, we strike the difficult balance between freedom of expression and the rights of individuals. The standard IPSO holds publications to is the Editors’ Code – a code which “should be interpreted neither so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it infringes the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
IPSO guidance is not part of the Editors’ Code; rather it focuses on key questions that journalists could ask themselves. Journalists at titles like The Spectator may not feel the need for such guidance, but the majority of publications regulated by IPSO are local papers, often produced with a small, inexperienced staff who may value such assistance.
As part of developing our guidance we listen to a range of voices, including editorial staff and interested groups and individuals. We are grateful to everyone who has contributed their time and expertise thus far; we robustly refute any suggestion we are unduly influenced.
Coverage of Muslims and Islam goes to the heart of the challenge of how to report, scrutinise, and criticise, groups and religions. There is a danger that journalists do not exercise full freedom of expression for fear of breaching the Editors’ Code. IPSO guidance is designed to help journalists to be confident in what they are writing; far from constraining freedom of expression is intended to enhance it.
Will Heaven also alleges that IPSO has been ‘correcting’ opinion pieces. As a regulated publication, The Spectator will know that, comment pieces, while free to be partisan, challenge, shock and offend, nonetheless must be accurate.
We do not shirk criticism from the public and those we regulate, but the suggestion that we are attempting to constrain freedom of expression, beyond the Editors’ Code, is groundless.
Letter not published by The Spectator