If all had gone to plan, the chair of the UK’s main press regulator would have spent Monday night enjoying a private dinner at Rupert Murdoch’s Mayfair flat.
Instead, Edward Faulks cancelled his plans after the Guardian asked why he had booked a dinner date with the billionaire media mogul.
Faulks, a peer and former Conservative minister, is chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), which oversees the output of Murdoch’s British newspapers.
His organisation is assessing Murdoch’s Sun for a potential breach of press standards. It has spent the past 48 hours dealing with thousands of complaints relating to Jeremy Clarkson’s Saturday column about the Duchess of Sussex, in which the columnist said he loathed Meghan “on a cellular level”.
The Sun has now removed Clarkson’s column from its website, while the piece has attracted 12,000 complaints – almost as many as Ipso received about all stories in the whole of 2021.
He wrote that he was “dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her”.
He added: “Everyone who’s my age thinks the same way.”
The column – which Clarkson said was a reference to Game of Thrones – was widely criticised for its misogynistic tone. Critics included his own daughter Emily, who said: “I want to make it very clear that I stand against everything my dad wrote about Meghan Markle.”
After facing a backlash over the comments, Clarkson issued a statement: “Oh dear. I’ve rather put my foot in it. In a column I wrote about Meghan, I made a clumsy reference to a scene in Game of Thrones and this has gone down badly with a great many people. I’m horrified to have caused so much hurt and I shall be more careful in future.”
It is unclear which of Ipso’s current rules could have been engaged as it does not admonish member newspapers for causing offence, and has broad guidelines for comment pieces.
A spokesperson for Ipso confirmed that Faulks had cancelled his plans to attend the private dinner with Murdoch and other executives at his News UK media company as a result of Clarkson’s comments attracting attention.
They said: “As part of his role as chairman of Ipso, Lord Faulks often meets publishers and editors. Lord Faulks was due to attend a longstanding engagement this evening hosted by Rupert Murdoch and attended by News UK executives. Because of the volume of complaints about Jeremy Clarkson’s column, Lord Faulks felt his attendance would not be appropriate at this time and has explained this to the organisers.”
The incident sheds light on the workings of the press regulator which is overseen by Faulks, a prominent QC and brother of the writer Sebastian Faulks. Although his salary is not public, his predecessor in the role was reported to earn £150,000 a year in 2014 for the part-time job.
Ipso was founded by newspaper groups attempting to head off the threat of statutory press regulation after the Leveson inquiry. Its leading backers include Murdoch’s News UK, the Daily Mail’s parent company, and Reach, the publisher of the Mirror and Express. The Guardian is not a member of the organisation and has its own in-house complaints process.
Scrutiny of how the British media report on Meghan is at a high after the release of Netflix’s Meghan & Harry documentary, which included the couple alleging widespread racism and sexism in the UK newspaper industry. The couple have brought multiple legal cases against British news outlets, with at least four legal cases against Ipso members still ongoing.
News UK has declined to comment.