New press regulator an important move for news in Harlow

Politics / Wed 26th Oct 2016 pm31 01:19pm

impressIMPRESS today became the UK’s first state-approved press regulator after its application for Royal Charter recognition was granted reports the Press Gazette.

After a full day of discussion around whether the regulator met the 23 Royal Charter criteria, the eight-strong Government-funded Press Recognition Panel said it was satisfied it did.

The move clears the way for the current Government, or a future one, to commence Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which imposes tough financial penalties on any publishers are not part of a Royal Charter-backed regulator.

It is believed that for Section 40 to work, an eligible regulator has to be in operation. Theresa May’s Conservative Government has yet to reveal whether it will commence Section 40, which says that non Royal Charter-regulated publishers must pay both sides’ costs even if they win libel and privacy cases.

The current signs are that the current government will not commence Section 40.

The Press Recognition Panel is an independent body set up to judge whether press regulators meet the Royal Charter criteria.

Members of Impress will now be immune from exemplary damages in libel and privacy cases and from the cost-shifting element of the Crime and Courts Act if it ever comes into force.

Impress regulates around 40 specialist and local publishers. Most magazine and newspaper publishers are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has not sought PRP approval.

Concerns had been raised over the independence of Impress through its reliance on funding from two charities which are closely linked to press reform campaign Max Mosley.

In 2015 it struck a deal with charity the Independent Press Regulation Trust for £3.8m in funding over the next four years. The IPRT’s funding has been guaranteed by the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust.

After agreeing that nothing in the charter or law prevented a charity from funding a press regulator, PRP member and former BBC journalist Tim Suter said: “A voluntary, self-funded regulator is potentially open to influence from those who choose to fund it, so at that point legal procedures and structure is your friend. That’s the only thing you can rely on.

“What we are considering today is if that process is sufficiently well detailed and set out that it minimises any risk of undue influence.”

The panel said that it was satisfied Impress’s funding was secure for the required four to five year period and that this provided sufficient independence.

Chairman David Wolfe said: “Just because somebody funds something, that in and of itself doesn’t constitute a lack of independence.”

Impress’s use of the Editor’s Code of Conduct was also deemed satisfactory after it was confirmed there was no barrier to its use – including no legal challenges – despite Impress not being involved in the Code’s framing.

Suter said: “It’s the responsibility of the board and the board alone to select the standards against which it will hold those it regulates to account.

“The Editors’ Code has been adopted by the Impress board. That is the status quo.”

After the decision, Impress said it was in talks with 40 publications of which a proportion had said they would join the regulator if it gained Royal Charter recognition.

Chairman Walter Merricks CBE said the decision was “good news for the press and good news for the public”.

“This is the next important step in building a new era of trust between journalists and the public and a significant moment in the history of press regulation in this country.

“For the first time news publishers, both large and small, have the choice to join an independent press regulator which is not controlled by major publishers.

“After rigorous examination and close scrutiny of our arrangements, the PRP has confirmed our independent, sustainability and our low cost arbitration scheme which means we can ensure access to justice for all.”

He added that publishers who are not regulated by IPSO are now Impress’ “target market”.

Impress chief executive Jonathan Heawood said the regulator’s long term plan was to move to a “more diverse funding model” and that it would be “looking around” to achieve this aim.

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