2016: Football’s new year’s resolution?

Argentina’s Lanus footballers argue with Ecuadorean referee Roddy Zambrano (C) during the Copa Sudamericana 2014 match against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno. Photo credit:JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Alert: If you have no interest in football, stop here!

An annual Christmas pleasure is spending time with my Evertonian in-laws. This year gave us an absorbing game against Stoke (match report here) decided, as you may recall, by a controversial penalty in stoppage time. Roberto Martinez must be one of the most civilised men in football, so his outrage was all the more telling!

Surely it is now time to try and fix the increasingly costly consequences of bad decisions. And as we look back on 2015, I do think we can import some aspects from other sports into the nation’s favourite.

So how about giving a form of  rugby’s “TMO” or cricket’s “DRS” a go?  Just for a trial season, just for penalty area incidents. And just limited to two “appeals” for each manger per 90 minutes. We have the technology.  The other rules of the game could accommodate the interruption with minimal adjustment.

I say “interruption” but look at the benefits – not just of improved decision-making, but in how the game is played.  We acknowledge that referees are human and can occasionally make mistakes.  But in allowing   a limited challenge, we support their authority, not undermine it.

When you are thinking  about the thoroughly distasteful but endemic  “crowding”  of referees  by players, anything to give the  man in black (forgive the stereotype,  which  I know is increasingly  outdated) the respect and space  to do  the job  is surely worth considering.

Also I would take the opportunity to go further.  If part of the role of the TMO is to diffuse controversy on the pitch, why not make improvements in player behaviour also part of the trial.  No crowding of the ref.  Discussion through the captain, not everyone. A much lower thresh-hold for dissent-related yellow and red cards. And in return, as a meaningful gesture to greater transparency, let’s put a mic on the ref. That seems to work very well elsewhere!

I’m by no means alone is wrestling with this issue.  George Riley wrote well on it in 2011 (read his blog here) So it is not unthinkable. Yes, there would be a few more cards over the first two or three games next season, but people will soon get the idea!

In return we get a better game and better role-models.  Investors can be more confident of getting a fair return for their input.  Gamesmanship diminishes and skill levels should predominate.

Time to wake up Simon, I hear you say – but the above is achievable if enough of us want it. The custodians of the rules are not hermetically insulated from the rest of us.  Why shouldn’t we expect and insist that the game not only confronts its problems but does so with zeal and imagination?

A happy new year to all!

The Sun, Corbyn and Page 1 apologies

First off, there should be credit where it is due. IPSO’s Complaints Committee has now twice in two weeks ordered newspapers to print a front page correction/apology in response to a page 1 inaccuracy.  It is good that the Committee is developing a taste for this approach.

But establishing a principle is not the same as sorting out the issue of prominence. The Editors’ Code is quite clear that “The headline, the placement on the page, and prominence including font size, ……must be agreed in advance. “ It seems that IPSO is not yet ready to move on from accepting the trade-off of a miniscule reference on the front page with a full adjudication on page 2.

When I recently gave two cheers for the newly revised editors’ Code, I called for more action on page 1 errors.  The Sun’s “apology” to Jeremy Corbyn (see image, bottom left corner) is so mealy-mouthed it is no apology at all in any meaningful sense.  It has been rightly and widely criticised and could prove to be something of an own-goal.


In my experience, newspaper editors hate not being in control. And the thing they hate more than anything else is not being in control of their own front page.  That is why a page 1 response, in the form of coverage of the same sort that contained the original error,   is absolutely appropriate.  If you think something is so important to splash it all over your front page, then if you’ve got it wrong, it should be just as big a deal.

It is clearly not just me that thinks in this way. The  stink  about what The Sun has  done this week  suggests that this  is an issue where  the IPSO Complaints  Committee, not to mention  the ‘paper itself, may  be tellingly out of step  with  public opinion (and by the way,  just because this  time it is The Sun doesn’t mean that  it is only this  ‘paper that has had a problem).

I do believe that as the  principle of  front page corrective  statements  becomes embedded in  the industry’s comfort zone,  an appropriate   view  on prominence   will surely  follow. If you will, a bit like the principle and practice of health warnings on cigarette packs. But, of course, if there were no page 1 errors to start with, this wouldn’t be a problem at all, would it?

The full text of IPSO’s ruling is at http://bit.ly/1YAYMXB

IPSO’s other “page 1” adjudication was against the Daily Express and can be found at http://bit.ly/1QX0TUT

Full disclosure: I was a Press Complaints Commissioner from 2008  to 2014. And I accept that some errors are inevitable.

Beefed up code for Editors-good news but more work needed

Three years after the Leveson enquiry , and 15 months after the demise of the Press Complaints Commission , today’s announcement of a revised Code of Practice for newspaper editors is both welcome and important.  The Code is the rules that most editors have to play by, whether in print or on line. It is determined by a committee (committee) by editors themselves and is separate to the body which deals with complaints and sets standards, which is IPSO (The Independent Press Standards Organisation Independent Press Standards Organisation).

Overshadowed by louder and more compelling news, this is nevertheless significant. Here’s why;

Headlines not supported by the text that follows them are not now allowed.  Before it was a requirement to take the headline and the text together as a whole.  This overlooks the key role played by headlines. They don’t just signpost us to what to read – they can convey a distinct message all on their own.  It is right and overdue that this is addressed.

Reporting of suicide gets a clause of the Code all of its own.  This highlights just what a tricky journalistic issue this is, as well as the sad fact that excessive detail has been linked to copycat activity.

Also being drawn out is gender identity which it will no longer be legitimate to make gratuitous prejudicial or pejorative reference to.  You could say that  the pre-existing reference to  gender in the same clause of the Code  mean that this is covered already  – but  given  really  bad behaviour by some  publications in respect  of  a systematically  discriminated against group,  this is a welcome development of  work  started by the PCC in 2013.( http://bit.ly/1NqQriL and reported  on at  http://bit.ly/1IqBoK )

In a crucial development, the new Code has an obligation to maintain internal procedures it resolves complaints swiftly. I think that this designed-in compliance is at the heart of an effective self-regulatory system. By making it clear that publicans themselves have an unavoidable responsibility   to maintain standards, self-awareness and resource necessarily increases.

But there are only  two cheers for the new Code. More could and I hope will soon be done. In particular I want to see:

  • Page 1 apology and corrections for page 1 errors – if publications are so happy to “splash” material on their front a page that then proves to be wrong, that seems an appropriate, proportionate sanction.
  • Lay members were introduced onto the Code committee last year – currently there are three, but 10 industry representatives. Three balance needs to change
  • IPSO must up its game on standards. What does an effective complaints handling process look like?  IPSO should be challenging, auditing, identifying and sharing best practice.

The current set-up, with the Code Committee and IPSO is not everyone’s cup of tea. There is a rival regulator, IMPRESS, but it is virtually irrelevant to all practical intents and purposes.  Not all publications   have signed up to IPSO – the Guardian, Independent and Evening Standard for example but a majority certainly have.

Critics decry the self-regulatory nature of the press, but the failing of Leveson was to leave too much ambiguity in key recommendations.  The realpolitik  is that IPSO  is  currently  the only substantial  show in town, and   over 1600 readers offended by the Sun’s now-infamous “1 in 5” headline have  put their faith in the organisation  to  deal  with their concerns.

Press regulation is important.  But it isn’t simple. Leveson was preceded by a long line of Royal Commissions and other enquiries over the past century. If the answer was straight-forward, we all would have seized upon it by now.  So we are where we are – but that is not a rationale for doing nothing. The Code revision has to be viewed in that context.


The new Code is operative from 1 January, The current code is at http://bit.ly/1Q27aQ3

Full disclosure: I was a Press Complaints Commissioner from 2008 – 14

Dads and Childcare – A trade union issue

Cost and Access issues make a childcare crisis for Dads which hurts us all

The All Party Parliamentary  Group on Fatherhood (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/fatherhood.htm ) relaunches today with strong support  from Working With Men (www.workingwithmen.org). So  it is a good time to  reconsider the role of dads in childcare.

This is undoubtedly a trade union issue: Many  unions’ rulebooks contain an explicit commitment to challenging and eradicating discrimination. Union involvement can and does achieve better-than-statutory  provision.  And also because of the impact on women of uneven access to and take up of childcare by men. And finally because the statutory  framework  for childcare doesn’t address  problems of  affordability and eligibility.

However, we always need to remember that parenthood does not solely consist of a two parent heterosexual situation, and acknowledge that men need to be careful not to be seen as “muscling in”  on  an area of predominantly  female influence in a world where male chauvinism is still widely prevalent.

But hang on, you might say: Is there really much more to negotiate?

Because there has been significant improvement in statutory provision: 52  weeks Maternity leave, 2 weeks  paid Paternity Leave, 39 weeks Statutory Maternity Pay, 52 weeks Parental Leave, Shared Parental Leave and Pay since 2015, and expanded Unpaid Parental Leave. (https://worksmart.org.uk/work-rights/family-friendly-work)  This is in addition to the Gender Equality Duty to make all parents the best parents they can be (http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/equality-act-codes-practice )

We see that 53% of working fathers drop their kids off at school and amongst younger parents,  more  men  do this than women (68%  young (18-35) fathers to 61% young mothers ).  There has been a 10 fold increase in fathers regularly looking after their children in last 10 years. (http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/the-modern-families-index)

Moreover, 52.2% employers offer in excess of the statutory requirement and there is a clear Union premium as 66% of negotiated Paternity Leave agreements were in excess of statutory levels in 2009.  That rose to 76% in 2014

Clearly trade union input has had a beneficial result. And men feature prominently in childcare campaigns, such as the CWU’s recent, efforts to keep open a workplace nursery (http://www.cwu.org/news/archive/mount-pleasant-nursery-saved.html ).  But before we get carried away, there is still plenty to do.

For example :

Shared Parental Leave & Pay since 2015 has had low take up: 40% of working fathers with a child under 1 are ineligible. And the TUC want 6, not 2 weeks, paid Paternity Leave. Fathers’ requests  for flexible working are more likely than mothers’ to be turned down. UK Statutory Paternity  Pay is 25% of full time male median  wage and 50% of fathers do not take their 2 weeks –  rising to 75% for those on lower income. (https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/work-life-balance/employment-rights/two-five-new-fathers-won%E2%80%99t-qualify-shared )

The Gender Equality Duty has a very low take up and 36% of fathers fake sickness to meet family commitments.  44% lied to employer to meet family commitments and despite that 10 fold increase in fathers regularly looking after their children in last 10 years, still only 10% full-time carers are men and 85% of couples have the father as higher wage earner. (http://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/publications/the-modern-families-index )

Although 52.2% employers offer in excess of the statutory requirements, this is skewed to public sector and larger employers. Less than 20% of employers received a request for Additional Paternity Leave and those who use it are more in the public than private sector (although the private  sector is more likely to have an enhanced provision – Paternity pay and leave: XpertHR survey 2014 (www.xperthr.co.uk/survey-analysis/paternity-pay-and-leave-experthr-survey-2014)


So current provision falls a long way short of good benchmarks – like, for example,  Denmark: there parents have the right to a total of 52 weeks leave with maternity subsistence allowance. The mother is entitled to four weeks’ maternity leave prior to giving birth and 14 weeks after; the father is entitled to two weeks’ leave after the birth; and remaining time can be divided according to individual wishes. Public sector employees receive full salary during maternity leave and private sector employees are entitled to a minimum level of maternity benefit, which is subject to negotiation with the employer. Parents who are not entitled to paid maternity leave from their workplace can receive maternity maintenance from their municipal office in their place of residence. (http://europa.eu/epic/countries/denmark/index_en.htm )

This isn’t about who changes the dirty nappies. No-one likes doing that.  It is a question of what we are going to about this fundamentally unfair and dysfunctional situation. The TUC, RCM and CWU collaborated in organising  a successful fringe event  at Congress this year (http://www.cwu.org/news/archive/cwu-at-tuc-2015-day-3.html ). We work closely  with  academics and  other campaigners.  NUT do some excellent work on gender stereotyping (https://www.teachers.org.uk/node/12981 ).  These things already feature on our bargaining agenda – but we must make the links across unions and  sectors. The new WorkCareShare initiative (http://www.workcareshare.com/ )  is a significant step towards this.

The ability of fathers to engage in childcare is inseparable from the ability of mothers to exercise proper choices – and neither should determined ‎by luck or chance. But it is also a contribution and catalyst to further changes in society on greater gender equality across the caring spectrum,  and the mainstreaming of good, shared, childcare arrangements as a critical factor for industrial and economic success.