Join my stand against IPSO to increase freedom of expression

by Jonathan Coulter

Join my stand against IPSO to increase freedom of expression

by Jonathan Coulter
Jonathan Coulter
I am 69, retired, and have spent my career in overseas development, in jobs which have involved much travel. It has made me a passionate advocate for foreign policies that are just and coherent.
Funded
on 19th December 2017
£30,682
pledged by 928 people
Jonathan Coulter
I am 69, retired, and have spent my career in overseas development, in jobs which have involved much travel. It has made me a passionate advocate for foreign policies that are just and coherent.

Latest: April 27, 2018

Here's the judge's decision

Dear supporters

I am sorry to tell you that the Judge has rejected my case against IPSO.  This is a severe disappointment to my legal team and me, and will no doubt disappoint the Hacked Off Ca...

Read more

My name is Jonathan Coulter, and I need you to help me fund a legal challenge to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) over its irrational and unfair response to a complaint against two newspapers (The Times and Sunday Times), which grossly misreported a public meeting held in the House of Lords in October 2016. 

The aim of the meeting was to launch a campaign to persuade the British Government to make an apology over the historical repercussions of the Balfour Declaration (of 1917) on the Palestinian people. In three articles, the newspapers wholly misrepresented the entire meeting as a sort of anti-Semitic ‘hate-fest’, and set the tone for other media reports. Thirty attendees including myself complained to IPSO. The Hacked Off campaign is supporting us in this challenge. 

The Court has already granted permission for us to proceed with a Judicial Review (JR) challenging IPSO's response to our complaint.

Please show your support by donating and spreading the word on social media.

Winning this case will have two important outcomes:

(a)  It will strike a blow for freedom of speech in the UK, emboldening politicians to speak up in favour of a just solution to the  Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Few will currently do this because they fear being smeared in the media as anti-Semitic when all they are doing is arguing against the policies of the Israeli government and those who support it.

(b) It will assist the campaign, led by Hacked Off,  for radical reform of the system of press regulation, including the implementation of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry, the purpose of which was to protect ordinary people from cruel and unethical treatment by the press, while at the same time safeguarding freedom of expression. This will be the first Judicial Review of IPSO.

How much is being raised and why?

I have already made a lot of progress, and the case must now proceed to a formal hearing scheduled for 17th April 2018. Henceforth, legal fees and court costs rise steeply, and could reach £30,000 or more. I cannot expose my family to such a crippling financial burden, and need crowdfunding. In order to take on the case, I require an initial fund of £12,000, but then I am aiming for a £30,000 fighting fund.  If we win and are left with a surplus, I shall use it to a support a closely related case.

This is a strong campaign because it rests on two separate pillars, the “Leveson pillar” which brings together those who feel that IPSO is a sham and an affront to fair process, and that it acts against the public interest by protecting newspaper owners from any accountability, and the “Palestinian pillar" which seeks to uphold our right to unfettered debate about Israel and Palestine. 

Case Background

IPSO was founded by leading newspapers groups to succeed the Press Complaints Commission as a 'self-regulatory body' in the aftermath of the Leveson Inquiry, but it fails to meet the requirements that Leveson laid down.

The complaints process was entirely unsatisfactory.  IPSO upheld just one aspect of our complaint against The Times, but allowed it to get away with an acknowledgement tucked away where no-one would notice. It did not uphold our main criticism, one of total distortion, and it completely exonerated the Sunday Times for an article by Rod Liddle that seriously misrepresented the Chairperson (Baroness Tonge). IPSO failed to consider a thorough House of Lords report that dismissed all the accusations that the meeting “had brought the House into disrepute”.

The Hacked Off Campaign, which seeks to expose IPSO as a sham regulator, agrees that the IPSO rulings were so biased as to be irrational and unfair.  Counsel then advised me that if I went for a judicial review my case would have strong merits. I have done this, and the Court has now granted permission to proceed on the basis of three legal grounds argued in my application.

The annex linked here provides further explanation as to why I am challenging IPSO.

Get updates about this case

Subscribe to receive email updates from the case owner on the latest news about the case.

Be a promoter

Your share on Facebook could raise £26 for the case

I'll share on Facebook
Update 2

Jonathan Coulter

April 27, 2018

Here's the judge's decision

Dear supporters

I am sorry to tell you that the Judge has rejected my case against IPSO.  This is a severe disappointment to my legal team and me, and will no doubt disappoint the Hacked Off Campaign which has been a valued backer over the last year.  

Significantly, my legal team had assessed that I had good prospects for success and was an ideal test case; I would not have proceeded otherwise.  

To reach the hearing we had first to: (a) establish that IPSO (a private body belonging to the press) was open to Judicial Review, and therefore on some level accountable in law, and; (b) get our case accepted “on the papers”.  We reached this point on 24th October 2017, and this was already a major achievement.  

However Judge Warby, who presided over the hearing of 17th April, took a very different view.  He was highly sceptical as to the Court’s jurisdiction over IPSO and declined to reach a conclusion on the matter.   And then he rejected the case on all the three grounds we had advanced, i.e. that IPSO had: 

  • rejected a complaint because the ‘wrong person” (a third party) had brought it;
  • refused to consider House of Lords evidence potentially favourable to the complainant, and;  
  • employed irrational decision-making, allowing the Times and Sunday Times to publish misleading and inaccurate information so long as it appeared in ‘opinion articles’, and confusing the concepts of ‘inaccuracy’ and ‘significant inaccuracy’

The judge often used the word ‘discretion’, seemingly happy about IPSO’s use of its discretionary powers.    

Notwithstanding, every cloud has a silver lining, and there are some achievements and useful lessons for the future:

  • This was the first ever Judicial Review of IPSO, and while the judge rejected the case, it has been formally assessed as having sufficient merit to be heard in court. On that basis, it was right and proper in terms of justice that it was heard. 
  • The case vividly demonstrates that, even if IPSO is reviewable by the court, the costs of such proceedings put such challenges far beyond the reach of the ordinary complainant; for most people IPSO is a law unto itself and there is no practical redress even if it breaches its own rules. I myself face the prospect of voluminous legal fees.
  • The judgment has highlighted the unsatisfactory character of the rules under which IPSO adjudicated our original cases against the newspapers.  Despite using the term 'findings of fact', the JR provided no ruling on the merits of the IPSO judgement, merely on whether, in its various points, that ruling conformed to the rules that the press industry wrote for IPSO. 
  • The judge's ruling confirms that IPSO's rules give it wide discretion to pick and choose on spurious grounds, notably in this case that the ‘wrong person’ had brought the complaint, or to ‘characterise’ such and such a factual assertion (e.g. that people at the meeting were calling for ‘Israel to be wiped from the map’) as an expression of opinion.  IPSO often filters out complaints on such grounds, irrespective of how conclusively the evidence shows that the code may have been breached, making a mockery of the idea that this is a regulator seeking to ensure consistent respect for the industry code of practice.  

For these and other reasons, I shall remain in touch with you - - - and hope to hear back.  If you haven’t already done so, please look at the stuff on my website www.freeexpressionforall.org and sign up for updates and send me any relevant information

Thanks for your continued support, and please share.

Best wishes

Jonathan Coulter

Update 1

Jonathan Coulter

April 15, 2018

Thanks to your support, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) faces its first court test on Tuesday 17th April

What is IPSO?

IPSO is a regulatory organ established by the press industry in 2014, with an alleged mission to uphold standards in news publishing and to protect the public from the effects of unethical conduct.  It is supposed to do this by enforcing a code written for it by newspaper editors.

In practice IPSO is modelled closely on the failed Press Complaints Commission (PCC), in defiance of the Leveson Inquiry, and as such tends to put the interests of the industry before those of the public. A few facts will help you understand this:

  • It has a set of arbitrary internal rules that enable it to cherry-pick which complaints it will actually look into, enabling newspapers to defy their own code of practice with impunity.  This feature is much evident in this case. 
  • Like the old PCC, IPSO has powers of investigation but never uses them; it only responds to complaints
  • Unlike the PCC, it has a power to impose fines, but again it never does so
  • Even when it upholds complaints against newspapers, its interpretation of ‘due prominence’ for corrections allows editors to bury their mistakes on inside pages.
  • In one year IPSO received 8,148 complaints relating to discrimination (much of it against Muslims) but upheld just one of them

This case against IPSO

On October 25th 2016, a meeting was organised by a group called ‘the Palestinian Return Centre’ and chaired by Baroness Tonge.  Two articles about it in the Times and one in the Sunday Times grossly misreported the meeting, causing no less than 30 of those present to complain that the articles unjustifiably represented the meeting as anti-Semitic in character. IPSO upheld one aspect of the complaint, but dismissed the rest.

One of the complainants, Jonathan Coulter, applied for a judicial review of IPSO’s handling of the original complaints, is challenging three fundamental elements of IPSO’s modus operandi:

– rejection of complaints on the grounds that the ‘wrong person’ has brought them - you might think that the identity of the complainant is insignificant beside the question of whether the Editors’ Code has been a breached, but IPSO provides newspapers with a trap-door;

– allowing papers to publish misleading and inaccurate information so long as it appears in so-called ‘opinion articles’, and;

– the limited way in which IPSO seeks to establish the facts of a case, including refusal to consider evidence favourable to complainants.

The High Court accepted the case for consideration last October, and it is being heard on 17th April.

What will a win mean in this case?

If Coulter is successful the regulator will have to consider the complaints afresh, but in practice the significance will probably be much greater, requiring substantial change to the way IPSO goes about its business.

The timing of this case is also auspicious, as it comes just before the House of Commons votes on amendments to the ‘Data Protection Act’. This seeks to reverse the Government’s recent decision to shelve the second part of the Leveson Inquiry and ‘Section 40’ of the Crime and Courts Act 2013; the latter is designed to relieve complainants and the Press from excessive legal costs.

Above all, a win would strike a blow for freedom of expression in this country. As Jonathan Coulter, puts it:

We have a magnificent tradition of free speech going back over 300 years, despite which, people often refrain from speaking up on contentious topics for fear of being attacked or smeared in the press, while lacking the financial means to secure redress. 

They often face powerful business and political interests with large PR budgets and the means to get their ‘stories’ planted in multiple news outlets at once. This tends to stifle freedom of expression, and frustrate democratic processes. 

However, a win in this case will send a warning shot across the bows of newspapers, encourage them to check their facts before publishing, and help Hacked Off and Parliament to advance the cause of press reform.

For further information See Hacked Off Campaign’s press release and Brian Cathcart’s recent article.  A website with updates will shortly available at freeexpressionforall.org

Get updates about this case

Subscribe to receive email updates from the case owner on the latest news about the case.

    There are no public comments on this case page.