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Concerns raised for editors over ‘palpably absurd’ IPSO complaints

Bob Haywood 1An award-winning former newsdesk boss has added his voice to growing disquiet over “increasingly ludicrous” complaints being investigated by the press watchdog.

Bob Haywood, who was news editor of Birmingham’s Sunday Mercury for almost two decades, has shared his concerns over regional editors’ time being taken up by “palpably absurd” complaints to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

Bob spoke out after HTFP reported on a complaint made by Gordon McDaid against the Greenock Telegraph, which was rejected by IPSO, in which the complainant claimed his privacy had been breached when the paper covered a road crash involving him.

In its successful defence, the Telegraph pointed out Mr McDaid had written his name and telephone number on the side of the van and said these details would have been seen by anyone who passed the collision, but it still took the story down as a “gesture of goodwill.”

Bob, who ran the Mercury’s newsdesk between 1985 and 2003, told HTFP: “Is it me – or are the complaints to IPSO getting barmier by the week? Your report of the regulator’s ruling on a piece in the Greenock Telegraph made me choke on my cornflakes.

“At least IPSO seems to be getting it right by throwing out these increasingly-ludicrous complaints but it must be having a drip-drip effect on editors.

“It is troubling that the Greenock Telgraph removed the online story ‘as a gesture of goodwill’. Goodwill to whom . . . the nutty complainant presumably?

“When I was news editor of the Sunday Mercury  I handled dozens of complaints. If we’d had a complaint like the one involving the Greenock Telegraph, we would have made a ‘gesture’ to the complainant – but of the two-fingered kind.”

Bob, a former BT Midlands Journalist of the Year who was still freelancing for the Mercury until 2016, added: “I have no wish to overcomplicate this, but does IPSO have the powers to tell complainants to pee-off if the complaints are palpably absurd, as in this latest example?

“This would save their investigators’ time and that of harassed editorial managers at the complained-of titles who have to keep a straight face and respond to [the complaints].”

Other complaints dealt with by IPSO in recent months include:

In a rare move, Bournemouth Echo editor Diarmuid McDonagh has also publicly criticised a “totally spurious” complaint his newspaper has dealt with recently.

And as far back as 2017, then-Daily Record editor Murray Foote was complaining that the workload caused by dealing with IPSO complaints was “burdensome” and that journalists were having to “jump through hoops to prove we are correct”.

In its annual report for 2020, the most recent available, IPSO revealed it investigated only 496 out of 30,126 complaints raised.

The watchdog found 29,377 complaints were not in its remit, with 24,270 not raising any possible breach that would merit investigation. The previous year, it probed only 621 out of 9,766 complaints made.

An IPSO spokeswoman said: “Anyone can make a complaint to IPSO about editorial material or journalistic behaviour that they think breaches the Editors’ Code. Last year IPSO received over 30,000 such complaints.

“The first step IPSO takes when it receives any complaint is to assess whether it raises a potential breach of the Editors’ Code.

“A large proportion of the complaints received do not identify a possible breach or otherwise fall outside of remit, and these are not taken forward.

“IPSO is conscious of the need to focus investigation and mediation efforts on complaints that are potential breaches and is fully committed to upholding the high standards set by the Editors’ Code in a proportionate way.”