A daily editor has criticised the press watchdog for investigating “completely spurious” complaints – and making journalists “jump through hoops” to disprove them.
Murray spoke out during a roadshow event hosted by the Independent Press Standards Organisation in Glasgow, where the paper is based.
Addressing the roadshow, Murray described himself as a “big advocate” of IPSO and its Editor’s Code of Conduct – but went on to question whether “everything in the IPSO garden is rosy”.
Murray told the event: “There have been IPSO rulings against us where we have found the findings against us ranging from unduly harsh to downright unfair. On one occasion, IPSO found against us by holding us to a more exacting standard than Scots Law demands of us.
“But, as IPSO point out, the Code of Conduct was drawn up by newspaper editors, it is regularly reviewed by newspaper editors, and IPSO are simply interpreting our own code. And that’s true, but I do reserve the right to moan about it.”
Murray claimed there had been days when he had more staff dedicated to answering complaints about previously published stories than had been working on new stories for the next day’s paper.
“In an industry where journalists are becoming increasingly thin on the ground, the workload can be burdensome. There are some complaints that I believe are completely spurious yet IPSO insist that we jump through hoops to prove we are correct,” he added.
“I accept there are good reasons for this, primarily IPSO’s wish to be seen to deal with all complaints equitably rather than being accused of sweeping some under the carpet. And that was one of the allegations regularly levelled at the PCC by its critics. But often the time our staff spend contesting complaints makes life difficult.”
However, Murray concluded: “The newspaper industry needs a robust watchdog and I believe IPSO is such an animal. It might not be perfect, but it’s ours, and the alternative really does not bear thinking about.”
Graeme Smith, editor of rival Glasgow-based daily The Herald, told the roadshow the majority of complaints to IPSO about his paper involved court stories, which he “found rather odd given that it is an extremely controlled environment where a narrative is given and, as long as that is reported accurately, there should be no cause for complaint”.
Graeme added: “Accused persons, however, often disagree with that narrative, but if it is what was said in court by the Crown or in evidence then perhaps it should be of little surprise that their complaints to Ipso rarely succeed.
“On the subject of court stories, it’s worth pointing out that neither The Herald nor any other national newspaper in Scotland has its own designated court reporters any more. We all use the same freelance agencies which cover the main courts in Glasgow or Edinburgh or individual freelances covering sheriff courts further afield.
“That means we all get the same service but it does also mean that on the rare occasions these experienced court freelancers get it wrong, everyone who has used their copy is affected.”
Ben McConville, head of the Department of Social Sciences, Media and Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University, also spoke at the event,
A round-up of the event on IPSO’s website reads: “The quality of debate and questions was first rate and the introductions from each of our guests were extraordinarily good – so much so that I twisted their arms to let us have them in full so we could publish them. As you’ll see from the content of the three contributions even those who we regulate sometimes get a little peeved with us.
“Having said that, the nature of a voluntary system underpinned by legally binding contract is that editor’s accept IPSO’s judgement even if, as Murray said: ‘There have been IPSO rulings against us where we have found the findings against us ranging from unduly harsh to downright unfair.’
“Graeme meanwhile pointed out that even in cases where he has had advice that, whilst legally sound, a story could potentially be in breach of the Editors’ Code, he has made the editorial decision not to publish, or to amend the story to remove any elements which may have led to a breach of the Code.”
It adds: “The audience was a great mixture of newspaper readers, students, PR practitioners and academics and the questions fired at the three guest speakers and Sir Alan [Moses, IPSO chairman] covered a wide range of topics, including the future of local newspapers, whether newspapers are run by an elite and how more women can become editors.”