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IMPRESS REASSERTS THE VALUE OF INDEPENDENT PRESS REGULATION

IMPRESS: The Independent Monitor for the Press was established in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press. Leveson recommended that self-regulators for the press should be subject to oversight (or ‘recognition’) to ensure that they meet minimal standards of independence and effectiveness. He also recommended that there should be legal incentives for news publishers to join a recognised regulator.

The Board of IMPRESS has announced its intention to seek recognition from the Press Recognition Panel. If it is recognised, IMPRESS will be able to protect news publishers against the risk of costs and exemplary damages in actions for libel, breach of privacy or harassment.

Walter Merricks CBE, Chair of IMPRESS, said: ‘As a regulator, we aim to meet the criteria for independence and effectiveness set out by Lord Justice Leveson. But we don’t expect the public to take our word for it. That’s why we will be asking the Press Recognition Panel to confirm whether we meet these criteria, as distilled in the Charter.’

Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director of IMPRESS, said: ‘All journalists want to be free to do a great job. That means being free from political and commercial interference. Through independent self-regulation, IMPRESS can enhance the capacity of journalists and publishers to do what they do best: tell the public what’s really going on in our society.’

The framework of recognition plus incentives mirrors the Irish model of press regulation. News publishers in Ireland are better able to mount a defence of fair and reasonable publication if they are members of the Irish Press Council, which was established under the Defamation Act 2009 and is subject to oversight by the Justice Minister. British news publishers who are active in Ireland are members of the Irish Press Council.

The post-Leveson legal framework in the UK is in fact less politicised than the Irish model. It consists of the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press, which creates the recognition process, and sections 34-42 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which set out the incentives. In contrast to the Irish model, British self-regulators are not subject to direct political oversight, but are held accountable by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), an independent public body established under the Charter.

Membership of IMPRESS is open to relevant publishers, including print and online publishers, at a local, national and international level. IMPRESS will resolve complaints under the standards code and will offer low-cost arbitration for serious claims of libel, breach of privacy or harassment. The costs of arbitration will be subsidised for smaller publishers. IMPRESS aims to promote press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. Its constitution includes a ‘sunset clause’ which will cause it to dissolve if a future government interferes with the recognition framework.

Mr Merricks said: ‘We welcome constructive debate about the future of media regulation. In an era of convergence and fragmentation, this is a challenging question for all democratic societies. At IMPRESS, we may not have all the answers. But we aim to be part of the solution.’

For more information contact Jonathan Heawood on 020 3585 4160, 07889 071711 or jonathan@impressproject.org.

Notes

• Walter Merricks CBE, the former Chief Financial Ombudsman, was appointed by an independent Appointment Panel in December 2014 as the first Chair of IMPRESS.
• His fellow Board members are Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of the health charity ASH; Iain Christie, Barrister, Actor and Secretary of the Civil Mediation Council; Maire Messenger-Davies, Professor of Media Studies at the University of Ulster; David Robinson, founder of the life insurance business Bright Grey; and Patrick Swaffer, President of the British Board of Film Classification.
• Sir Harold Evans, patron of the project, was Editor of The Sunday Times and The Times who enlarged the freedom of the British press with The Sunday Times’s success in the European Court of Human Rights in April 1979, striking down the gagging writs on fair comment and investigation. He was named a world press freedom hero by the International Press Institute.
• A poll by YouGov on behalf of the Media Standards Trust in October 2013 revealed that 71% of the public believe press regulation should be independent of newspaper publishers.
• A poll by Survation on behalf of the Free Speech Network in April 2013 revealed that 67% of the public believe press regulation should be independent of politicians.

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