As mentioned in my previous post, Craig Murray is expected to finally be released from prison on Tuesday morning. One of Lady Dorrian’s eyebrow-raising justifications for incarcerating him was a novel principle that mere bloggers should not enjoy equality before the law with mainstream journalists – and her excuse for that was the observation that mainstream journalism, unlike blogging, is “regulated”. That means she was according a tremendous amount of significance to the jurisdiction of the press regulator IPSO – an entirely voluntary body which “enforces” an entirely voluntary code. For the new Dorrian Doctrine to have any credibility, then, and certainly for it to have sufficient credibility to even begin to justify imprisoning someone for writing internet articles, it would have to be assumed that the voluntary IPSO system is working exceptionally well.
Just by complete chance, a truly dreadful example of Scottish political journalism came along recently to give us a golden opportunity to assess whether IPSO is regulating the press as effectively as Dorrian would have us believe – or indeed whether it is regulating the press in any real sense at all. On 20th September 2021, the Daily Record published an article entitled “Scottish independence support drops in new opinion poll on constitution”. Both the headline and the main thrust of the article was a downright, deliberate lie. The opinion poll being referred to was a Redfield & Wilton survey showing Yes on 44% and No on 47%, which represented no change whatsoever from the firm’s previous poll which also showed Yes on 44% and No on 47%. As a technical justification for the lie, presumably intended as a shield against any complaint to IPSO, the eighth paragraph of the Record article hinted (but didn’t state directly) that the claim of a drop in support for independence was based on a comparison with an Opinium poll which had showed a slim Yes lead – but any such implied comparison was an utter nonsense and an insult to the intelligence of every reader. Not only was the Opinium poll conducted by a completely different firm with a completely different methodology (thus meaning that the numbers from the two polls cannot be directly compared), it wasn’t even the most recent poll by any firm. Nor was it the second most recent poll by any firm. There were in fact two polls prior to the Redfield & Wilton poll that had fresher fieldwork than the Opinium poll – one conducted by Savanta ComRes and one conducted by Panelbase. The Record had essentially delved back into history with the intention of cherry-picking any poll they could find that would artificially produce the “drop in support for Yes” they wanted to report, but that inconveniently didn’t actually exist.
If it’s journalistically acceptable for a newspaper to behave in that way, the reporting of polls becomes an anything goes funfair. Any poll can be reported as showing any trend the journalist wants. A pro-independence journalist, for example, could claim that absolutely any poll shows an increase in support for Yes, as long as they chuck in the disclaimer “oh and by the way I’m making the comparison with a System Three poll published in 1994”. Fortunately, however, the IPSO code makes clear that sleights of hand of that sort are not a valid excuse – not only are outright inaccuracies forbidden, but so are “distortions”. There was therefore no doubt whatsoever that the Record article was in breach of the code – it was a cynical attempt to hoodwink readers into falsely believing that independence support had fallen.
But do IPSO actually enforce their own code? You probably won’t faint with amazement at the revelation that they don’t. A Scot Goes Pop reader lodged a complaint with IPSO, and it was summarily dismissed without even being considered by the Complaints Committee. What was truly staggering, though, was not so much the dismissal itself but the stated reasons for dismissal, which read like the judgement from a show trial in an authoritarian state. They brazenly turned reality on its head by accusing the complainant of doing the exact thing that the Record had done in the offending article – ie. of cherry-picking a poll for comparison.
“While we understand that you considered this inaccurate, as you had found another poll with identical figures preceding the one reported on by the article, where the article made clear on what basis it reported that “independence support drop[ped]”, we found no possible ground to investigate a possible breach of Clause 1.”
“As you had found”? “As you had FOUND”? What?! What in the name of mercy do these people even think they are talking about? The complainant hadn’t “found” anything – he was simply making a statement of indisputable fact that the poll showed no change from the previous poll conducted by the same firm, which is the universally accepted way of accurately reporting opinion poll trends. It was the Daily Record that had gone on a mission to “find” a poll that they could use to make the new poll show something it did not show. What IPSO did was the rough equivalent of playing a piece of CCTV footage backwards to make it look like the victim of theft was the perpetrator. “Cynical” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
On the basis of IPSO’s rules, the complainant had a right to appeal, which he naturally did, just on the off-chance that IPSO somehow didn’t understand any of the above and had made a catastrophic mistake in good faith. But no go. The appeal was summarily rejected as well, and this time they didn’t even bother offering reasons, beyond the generic and content-free “your complaint did not raise a possible breach of the Code”.
Make no mistake – IPSO is a sham regulator conducting sham investigations. The intent is not to correct lies and to punish journalists who are guilty of them, but instead to buttress lies and glorify them, and effectively provide lying journalists with “truth-teller of outstanding integrity” certificates. This is the sort of thing you’d expect to happen in a cultish one-party state, not in an allegedly mature western democracy.
Perhaps none of it would matter if we all just pointed and laughed at IPSO as a joke regulator run by the press for its own self-interested purposes. But once you have a High Court judge praying in aid this nonsense as part of her reasoning for sending a writer to jail, we are into very sinister and dangerous territory.