IMPRESS, the Independent Monitor for the Press, has announced that it is preparing to seek recognition under the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press [pdf]. The Charter gives effect to the principles of independent and effective regulation defined by Lord Justice Leveson after his groundbreaking inquiry into press standards.
IMPRESS was established by a group of journalists and free speech campaigners to uphold standards of accuracy, privacy and free speech. It is independent of both the state and the newspaper industry and will regulate those publishers who join. IMPRESS aims to give the public redress when these publishers breach the standards code, and to protect journalists against vexatious complaints.
In polls, a majority of the public have said that neither politicians nor newspaper publishers should be entrusted with press regulation. The Charter, approved by all parties, is designed to guarantee press regulation in the public interest.
Sir Harold Evans, patron of IMPRESS and former Editor of The Sunday Times and The Times said:
‘I watched a series of scandals unfold in British journalism in recent years. Without a scrupulously independent system for effective monitoring and correction, we risk more abuses and another sharp decline in the public trust which is itself the foundation of a free press. The IMPRESS proposals promise to enable the best and discourage the worst.’
Later this year, IMPRESS will ask the Press Recognition Panel, an independent public body, to assess whether IMPRESS meets the Leveson principles of independent and effective regulation set out in the Charter. If IMPRESS is recognised by the Panel, it will be able to protect publishers it regulates against the risk of paying claimants’ costs in libel or privacy actions and the risk of exemplary damages under clauses of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which come into force on 3 November 2015.
The Panel has no direct involvement in press regulation and neither the Panel nor IMPRESS can prevent any newspaper publishing anything. But IMPRESS will be able to fine news publishers up to £1m for serious or systemic breaches of the code.
Walter Merricks CBE, Chair of IMPRESS, said:
‘IMPRESS aims to meet the demand from those news publishers who see the benefits in independent regulation, the protections it affords them and the assurance it gives to their readers. The regulatory structure set out in the Charter may not be widely loved, but it is the only one on offer that can deliver public confidence, and we will demonstrate that it can work.’
Sue Evison, Board Member of IMPRESS and former Chief Feature Writer of The Sun, said:
‘As a tabloid journalist, I know that robust popular journalism is completely compatible with decent standards. Press freedom is there to serve the public. It’s not an excuse for news publishers or journalists to ride roughshod over people’s lives.’
- The IMPRESS Project was launched in November 2013 to develop a regulator which complies with the Leveson principles for independent self-regulation.
- Walter Merricks CBE, the former Chief Financial Ombudsman, was appointed by an independent Appointment Panel in December 2014 as the first Chair of the regulator.
- 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; Sue Evison, former Chief Feature Writer of The Sun; 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.
- The Leveson principles were distilled in the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press, granted on 30 October 2013 with all-party agreement.
- The Royal Charter establishes an independent body, the Press Recognition Panel, which will review applications from press regulators against 23 criteria for independence and effectiveness.
- News publishers that subscribe to an independently-recognised regulator will be protected against the risk of costs and exemplary damages in civil actions for libel, breach of privacy and harassment.
- Members of the public who wish to sue a news publisher not regulated by a recognised regulator will also be protected against the risk of costs in civil actions for libel, breach of privacy and harassment.
- 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.