Few if any regular newspaper readers will have failed to notice that in the last few weeks the print media industry has been calling on the public to help fight off new challenges to press freedom in the UK.

At the centre of the debate is the public consultation announced by the Secretary of Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley asking for opinions on whether new financial threats should be imposed on the printed press (referred to as Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act) and if a new enquiry should be launched into the relationships between the media and the police (referred to as Leveson Two).

Central to this debate has been the role of the press industry’s own preferred regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

Those who are urging for more constraints on our free press, in particular the campaigning group Hacked Off, say that IPSO is far from independent and falls short of the requirements laid down by Lord Justice Leveson following his enquiry into press standards in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.

With a new regulator, Impress, recognised under the government’s Royal Charter created to oversee press regulation, the matter has reached a head.

The decision to go to public consultation indicates that the government is at least open to the argument that IPSO has indeed been acting as a valid and effective regulator since it was established in 2014.

That is certainly a view that this paper would underscore.

It must be said at the outset that the Southern Daily Echo and all of the publications under its parent company Newsquest have signed up to be regulated by IPSO.

Our parent company also helps fund the body, as do the other 84 publishers of the 1.100 print titles and 1,500 websites that have agreed to accept Ipso regulation.

This body of titles, which include the majority of national papers as well as almost all regional and local publications, amounts to 90 per cent of newspaper and magazine publishers in the UK who are now legally bound to abide by the rulings of Ipso.

And Ipso has teeth. While it may have been wrong to describe IPSO’s predecessor the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) as a ‘paper tiger’ – it was after all a complaints body not a regulator – the PCC certainly lacked the bite of Ipso.

Ipso has the power to dictate where corrections should be carried in a publication, and can issue fines of up to a million pounds.

With every editor under its regulation carrying clauses in their contract to uphold IPSO’s rulings and adhere to the Editor’s Code of Conduct which forms the back bone of the regulator’s considerations, there is no doubt in the industry’s mind that our new regulator means business and has sharp claws.

Every editor is certainly aware of the new requirements from IPSO to not only display prominently details of how readers can make contact with the body, but go out of their way in correspondence to direct anyone who is unhappy with the actions of their paper to the regulator.

IPSO demands prompt response to complaints, has a tenacious team of administrators, and in its board and complaints committee those who pull no punches when ruling on whether a publication is at fault or could have done more to assuage a complainant’s concerns.

The ruling against the Sun newspaper’s front page headline ‘Queen backs Brexit’ proved the regulator would not shy away from berating the most high-profile of publications.

There are those who say that Ipso is stuffed full of editors and journalists and that the industry ‘ is marking its own homework.’ This is simply not the case.

While IPSO members do include high-profile names from the industry such as former TV newsreader and journalist Sir Martyn Lewis and former editor of the Mail on Sunday Peter Wright, both the board and the complaints committee include several high-profile lay members.

The Chairman of IPSO is the fiercely independent former Court of Appeal judge the Rt Hon Sir Alan Moses.

In 2015, the last year when records are available, IPSO handled 12,278 enquiries and complaints, the majority going no further than the initial stages.

The body upheld 60 complaints against titles and in a further 205 facilitated a resolution between a publication and a complainant.

In a further 183 investigations the complaints were not upheld, and in 64 cases the matters were resolved with Ipso mediation. 

Last year IPSO launched a pilot arbitration scheme. It started in July and is expected to run for 12 months. The pilot provides a cost-effective process for resolving legal claims against the press.

During this process a barrister is appointed to act as an arbitrator (judge) for the claim. The arbitrator's rulings are binding on both the claimant and the publisher, and will provide a final determination on the dispute.

The majority of the industry would maintain that IPSO is now performing the role of press regulator as called for by Lord Justice Leveson.

The body is independent – those paying for the regulator have no say over its decisions – offers low-cost arbitration, ensures swift and transparent action on complaints, has the necessary powers to impose real penalties, and, most importantly, has the backing and support of the press itself, something no regulator could hope to survive without.

Those backing Impress, which is wholly funded by Sir Max Mosley and has no code of practice of its own, have yet to prove to a sceptical industry and, I would suggest, an even more sceptical public, how it can hope to perform as a serious regulator that will defend press freedom as much as it defends the public.

At its heart, that is the issue now before the Government, and the British public.

Who is who at IPSO:

  • The chair of IPSO is retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Alan Moses and a 12-strong board has been appointed. A majority of the members are independent (7) which means they have no connections with the newspaper and magazine industry. The other members (5) represent the newspaper and magazine industry.
  • Richard Hill, MBE is chair of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. He is now the owner and director of Titanic Gap media consultancy.
  • Anne Lapping is the former vice chairman of the Council and Court of the London School of Economics. She has worked for ITV plc and The Economist and was the joint founder of Brook Lapping Productions, and is a trustee of openDemocracy, chair of the management board of POLIS, and a former non-executive director of Channel 4 and the Scott Trust Limited (owners of Guardian Media Group).
  • Sir Martyn Lewis, CBE During Martyn Lewis's 32 years as a television news journalist he presented all the mainstream national news programmes on ITV and the BBC. He is chairman of NCVO (the National Council for Voluntary Organisations), the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service and Families of the Fallen, president of United Response, founder of YouthNet and director of The TS Elite Group.
  • Charles McGhee is the former editor of The Herald in Glasgow, is an Honorary Professor in Journalism and Media at Glasgow Caledonian University. Charles is a former member of the Press Complaints Commission and president of the UK Society of Editors.
  • Keith Perch is the former editor of the Leicester Mercury, the Derby Telegraph and the South Wales Echo, and has also worked for the Grimsby Telegraph, the Hull Daily Mail and the Birmingham Post and Birmingham Mail. 
  • Charles Wilson is the former managing director of Trinity Mirror and has previously been editor of The Times, The Independent, the Scottish Standard, The Glasgow Herald and the Chicago Sun-Times. 
  • Mehmuda Mian practised as a solicitor specialising in commercial and professional indemnity litigation. She previously worked at the Law Society investigating complaints against solicitors and has chaired independent review panels for the NHS. She was one of the first Commissioners to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, former BBC Trustee, non-executive Director of the Independent Safeguarding Authority and of the Disclosure and Barring Service.
  • Mike Soutar is a multi-award winning magazine professional with more than thirty years’ experience in the sector. He has edited some of the UK’s best-known magazines and is Chairman and co-founder of Shortlist Media Limited.
  • Trevor Kavanagh is a columnist and assistant editor at The Sun. He was the paper's political editor from 1983-2006 and chief leader writer until 2008.
  • Ruth Sawtell is currently a Board member at the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and at PhonepayPlus. She recently completed a six year tenure as a council member at the Advertising Standards Authority and was previously a council member at the Nursing and Midwifery Council and a non-executive director at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Claire Singers has 30 years of experience as a public relations consultant. She was Managing Director and joint owner of LD Communications, one of the UK’s leading entertainment agencies. Claire has worked with some of the biggest artists in the world, including Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, as well as being involved in high profile events such as Live 8 and Live Earth.
  • Matt Tee is Chief Executive of IPSO.

Make your voice heard. Go to www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-the-leveson-inquiry-and-its-implementation.