Few people in the UK are more trusted than the Queen. Whatever you think about royalty, we do not think that our monarch lies. So when Buckingham Palace denied The Sun’s story that the Queen stated anti-EU beliefs in a meeting of the Privy Council, that should be the end of it. A front page retraction on the UK’s best selling paper should have followed.
Except it didn’t. The Sun’s editor, Tony Gallagher, who was pretty stubborn when I went to university with him, has dug in his heels. He’s standing by the story. So the Queen has no option but to complain to IPSO, the media regulator, just like anyone else.
Many times people have written “this is a critical test for newspaper regulation” but this time it is. IPSO is a self regulator, set up by the papers and responsible to them.
To consider how crazy this is, change the word “newspaper” to “bank”. If the banks set their own standards and set up their own regulator (which by the way not all the banks sign up to), drafted in an ex judge to run it and gave it no powers to fine the banks or indeed compel them to do anything, what would the media say about it?
It has been reported that IPSO will not be able to rule on The Sun’s story before the Brexit vote on 23 June, which means that Brexit campaign (which The Sun supports) gets a free shot. And what happens if The Sun disputes IPSO’s ruling? There is nothing stopping the Murdoch empire withdrawing from IPSO and setting up its own regulator – which is what The Guardian does as it never joined IPSO in the first place.
The Queen could, of course, sue The Sun for libel. This is open to her as an individual. If she was a business misrepresented by the papers, reforms to the libel laws have made it prohibitively difficult for companies to prove loss and so win any legal action. They have little choice but to go on bended knee to IPSO.
This incident shows how David Cameron’s failure to put in place effective regulation of the media is coming back to haunt him. IPSO facto!