The end of an era was apparently announced by Press Gazette yesterday, as Freddy Mayhew’s article told “Neil Benson has replaced Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre as the new chairman of the Editor’s Code of Practice Committee, which sets and revises the rules upheld by press regulator IPSO”. So the Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor was bowing out - this must be a watershed moment for press regulation.
Or so the press establishment would like us to think: readers are then told “Benson, who is group executive editor at regional publishing giant Trinity Mirror, was elected by the industry members of the committee. Benson is stepping down from his role at Trinity Mirror at the end of the year”. Two things here.
One, “industry members of the Committee” means that the three lay members did not get to take part in the selection process - that was for the press alone to decide. And two, as can be seen from Benson’s CV, he is not exactly a breath of fresh air, having been group executive editor of a business which is paying out millions of pounds in costs and damages in respect of a whole raft of phone hacking claims.
Of course I'm not f***ing off, c***
I’ll go further: Neil Benson and Paul Dacre go back a long way. They sing from the same hymn sheet on any and every key issue affecting press regulation. There will be no change in the stance towards the Leveson proposals (hostile), Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act (hostile), and the idea of commencing Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry (also hostile). This appointment is another example, as with IPSO replacing the PCC, of offering the public the same old piss, but in a differently labelled bottle.
Benson has always been ready to speak up for the press establishment, and in this he is a full participant in the News Media Association, a front group for the press establishment. When the NMA wanted someone to intone gravely how Section 40 would bust local journalism overnight, Benson was obediently on hand to be that man.
Here he was in October last year. “Neil Benson, editorial director regionals, Trinity Mirror, said: ‘The impact of these costs provisions would be felt by each and every one of our regional and local newspapers and the business as a whole. It would fundamentally change the way our editors approach publication because they would have to consider the possibility of being financially penalised even if a judge had ruled that every word of their story was true’”. And there was more.
“Enacting these cost provisions would represent an attack on local journalism and fundamentally undermine democracy at a local level. The Government must not do this. Instead, Ministers should be looking at ways to support a vibrant local news sector which challenges authority and holds the powerful to account”. In other words, Government must support the press establishment’s wish to carry on misbehaving as before.
Plus, of course, the Editor’s Code is all very well, but as any fule kno, when push comes to shove, it gets thrown out the window, only for subsequent lapses in those allegedly high journalistic standards to mean IPSO has to be yet more creative in its efforts to fob off the little people and wipe the press establishment’s backsides.
IPSO is still a sham regulator. This appointment changes nothing.