ASA rules that IPSO cannot claim to ‘deliver all the key elements Leveson called for in his report’

  • Claim that IPSO delivers ‘all the key elements Leveson called for’ found to be misleading by ASA
  • ASA rules IPSO ad “must not appear again in its current form”
  • Investigation reveals that original IPSO ad placed not by IPSO, but by the Free Speech Network

An advertisement for IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) published in a number of national newspapers to coincide with the launch of IPSO in October 2013, claimed that IPSO would ‘deliver all the key elements Leveson called for in his report’.


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has now upheld a complaint submitted by the Media Standards Trust and others about this claim. The claim is ‘misleading’, the ASA adjudication states, and for this reason, ‘The ad must not appear again in its current form’.


The ASA also discovered that the advertisement was not placed by IPSO but by the Free Speech Network, a newspaper industry lobbying group that previously published ads comparing Leveson’s recommendations to policies pursued in dictatorships such as Zimbabwe and North Korea. Nowhere on the advertisement was this made clear. The Media Standards Trust was only told the real identity of the advertiser in April 2014, almost five months after the original complaint was made.


The ASA did not uphold three related complaints about claims made within the advertisement. It did not uphold the complaint that the claim that “The Board of IPSO will have a majority of independent members and an independent chair, chosen in a transparent and open process.” was misleading and did not justify the claim of ‘Genuine Independence’. It did not uphold the complaint that the claim that ‘Politicians are trying to force the press to sign up to a royal charter” was misleading, because the Royal Charter system was voluntary and no politicians were trying to force the press to sign up. Nor did it uphold the complaint that the claim that the Royal Charter was “… controlled by politicians” was misleading.


The Media Standards Trust disputes the decision not to uphold these related complaints. In particular, it disputes:

  • The ASA’s arbitrary view of the public’s interpretation of the advertisement. For example, its understanding of how the public would interpret “entirely independent of all political parties”. The ASA states:

The ad stated, under the claim “FREE SPEECH GUARANTEED” that “IPSO is entirely independent of all political parties”. Although we understood that party-political peers could sit on the IPSO board, we considered that readers would not interpret the claim to mean that no person with party political affiliations or views could be employed by IPSO, but would understand that IPSO was not the regulatory scheme supported by the government, with cross-party support, and that sitting MPs would not be involved in establishing or running IPSO.

We considered they would further infer from the ad’s claims that the members of the IPSO board, or those involved in establishing IPSO, were expected to be impartial in the work they carried out.

We therefore considered the claims “GENUINE INDEPENDENCE” and “IPSO is entirely independent of all political parties” were unlikely to mislead.

Given the unfounded nature of this ruling, the Media Standards Trust offered to commission an independent poll to better assess the public’s interpretation. This offer was rejected.

  • The ASA’s failure to take account of the effect of a Special Resolution in the IPSO (November 2013) documents that disapplied Section 26 of IPSO’s own Articles concerning the transparency and openness of IPSO’s Appointments process for the initial Appointment Panel. The Free Speech Network’s 2014 response was based on Section 26 still being in force.
  • The narrow view taken of ‘Genuine Independence’ as being solely related to the IPSO Board, rather than the independence of the IPSO system from substantial control by industry interests. As the Media Standards Trust analysis of IPSO demonstrates, IPSO is far from independent of control by the newspaper industry. The funding body of IPSO has a wide range of powers over the operation of the regulator, including over regulations, appointments and the standards code.


The ASA has also chosen not to investigate whether the advertisement breached CAP Code 3.5 which states that ‘Marketing communications must not materially mislead by omitting the identity of the marketer’, despite the omission of the identity of the marketer, who turned out to be an industry lobbying group.


The Media Standards Trust is appealing the decision not to investigate whether CAP Code 3.5 was breached, and appealing the way in which the complaint was dealt with.


Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, said “Those establishing IPSO can no longer falsely claim that it delivers all the key elements of Leveson. The response to our complaint raises yet more questions about the independence of IPSO, and its relationship with the Free Speech Network calls for further investigation”.