IMPRESS — “a community interest company” — has been given official state backing to operate as a press regulator. But as IMPRESS has been majority-funded through charities set up by former Formula 1 tycoon Max Mosley, how “independent” is it likely to be?
After the Leveson Enquiry into the conduct and ethics of the UK press, the question of how to manage press regulation has been fought over by rival groups of newspaper owners and lobby groups like Hacked Off! The widely discredited Press Complaints Commission has to be replaced, but what with?
The main charge against the PCC was that it was too close to newspaper owners. But to fend off greater regulation the majority of large newspapers rejected what they called illiberal state regulation through a royal charter and founded IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The Financial Times, Observer, Guardian and others rejected this new body and have their own internal policies for dealing with complaints.
IMPRESS has the backing of Hacked Off! But just a handful of smaller publications and websites have signed up to its charter. Some magazines with a large circulation like Private Eye are not signed up to any of the bodies. Newspapers like Solidarity will stay away from both the multi-millionaire press barons and influential rich people who control IPSO and IMPRESS. In other words there is now a dog’s dinner of press regulation and effectively a complete lack of truly independent regulation across the industry.
Concern around the decision to grant IMPRESS a charter hinges on whether the government will trigger Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. This would mean that media groups who do not join IMPRESS would be liable to pay the legal costs for both sides in any libel case, even if they won the case. The spiralling costs of libel cases and declining sales of printed newspapers means those newspapers committed to IPSO may need to go over to IMPRESS.
Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson has called on the Government to urgently implement the Crime and Courts Act as the only way to ensure fairness when the press is essentially self-regulated. The dangers of press self-regulation are clear. But so is state backing for a rival body funded by a multi-millionaire and Hacked Off!
Social control of the press, the right to expose the manoeuvres and dealings of the rich is vital. While the ability to take actions to court and win expensive libel cases remains solely with the rich, there will never be a fair system of press regulation.