A new charity promising funding for a Leveson-compliant press regulator has been established.
The Independent Press Regulation Trust (IPRT) has said it will fund a regulator recognised by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP).
The majority of regional and national newspaper publishers – with notable exceptions including The Guardian, Financial Times, Evening Standard and Independent titles – are currently regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
IPSO is not applying for PRP recognition, which would require full compliance with the Leveson criteria set out in the cross-party Royal Charter.
Rival regulator IMPRESS will be applying for recognition and has been identified by the IPRT as a suitable recipient of its funds. It currently has no members, but has revealed interest from independent local publishers.
On Friday, Mike Darcey – the chief executive of Sun, Times and Sunday Times publisher News UK – wrote to the PRP urging it not to recognise a regulator without any members.
If IMPRESS was recognised, its members would be be protected from paying claimants’ legal costs under a clause in the Crime and Courts Act.
Darcey suggested that as well as being an incentive for publishers to join, it is also "designed to punish publishers who do not choose to join an approved regulator".
In a letter seen by Press Gazette, he wrote: "If a regulator is recognised, it will claim that publishers are incentivised to join it because the legislation will provide costs and damages protection in some legal actions pursuant to provisions under the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
"Those provisions, however, not only incentivise, but are designed to punish publishers who do not choose to join an approved regulator once one exists, regardless of the effectiveness of the publishers’ own regime.
“We do not accept that the recognition of a body with no industry support should trigger punitive measures threatening freedom of speech."
On the Charity Commission website, the objective of the IPRT is listed as: "To promote, for the benefit of the public, high standards of ethical conduct and best practice in journalism and the editing and publication of news in the print and other media, having regard to the need to act within the law and to protect both the privacy of individuals and freedom of expression."
The IPRT's trustees are Richard Rees-Pulley, a consultant at Sopher and Co tax planners, Wilfrid Vernor-Miles, a parter at Hunters Solicitors, and Christian Flackett, director of private clients and charities at GAM.
The charity was registered on 20 July. According to Third Sector magazine, the Charity Commission refused to give the IPRT charitable status, but this decision was overturned at a charity tribunal in June.
The IPRT's application for charitable status was first rejected in May 2014. A year later, after an appeal was lodged, there was a two-day hearing held in London.
The Charity Commission rejected the IPRT's application in May 2014 because the PRP had not begun the process of recognising regulators and so the organisation's purposes were considered "too vague and uncertain".
It noted in its decision that the IPRT had "identified The IMPRESS Project as a body which is currently engaged in the design and establishment of a new press regulator which intends to comply with the Leveson recommendations and hopes to be formally recognised. Although the IMPRESS project is not charitable in itself, IPRT intends to support that part of its work dedicated to establishing a new Leveson compliant regulator which IPRT argue will be in furtherance of the charitable purposes expressed in the Trust Deed."
After holding a consultation on how to interpret the Leveson criteria set out in the Royal Charter, the PRP is now set to begin considering applications for recognition in the autumn.