The only former tabloid journalist on the board of rival press regulator IMPRESS has resigned and withdrawn her support from the body.
Former Sun journalist Sue Evison said she is now backing the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the successor body to the Press Complaints Commission which most major newspaper and magazine publishers belong to.
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Evison told Press Gazette the main reason she has left IMPRESS is because IPSO is now consulting on adopting a legal arbitration scheme. This is a body that will allow claimants, and publishers, to settle libel and privacy claims cheaply without going to court.
Evison said: “The reason that I joined the board was that I was passionate about access to justice. Now IPSO has started a public consultation on access to justice I didn’t feel I had anything to give to the IMPRESS agenda.”
Evison spent 22 years at The Sun and has also worked for Hello magazine.
She leaves IMPRESS as it prepares to make an application to be approved by the Press Recognition Panel. Once recognised, publishers which are part of IMPRESS would be protected from paying claimants’ legal costs under a clause in the Crime and Courts Act.
IMPRESS has yet to announce any members, but it has said that a number of small local news publishers are interested in joining. The Guardian, Independent, FT and Evening Standard have all yet to sign up to any press regulator since the closure of the PCC.
Evison also said she found the approach of IMPRESS to be “too academic rather than being rooted in the reality of day-to-day journalism”.
She added: “I was the only tabloid journalist on the board and it sometimes felt that I wasn’t being heard.”
Evison said she believes that if IPSO adopts the arbitration system it will “neuter” the clause in the Crime and Courts Act designed to punish newspapers and magazines which are not approved by the Royal Charter-backed Press Recognition Panel. Under this law, members of IPSO could have to pay both sides' libel costs even if they win a libel trial. This clause of the act will kick in as soon as IMPRESS gains official recognition, which could happen as soon as November.
Evison said: “Arbitration neuters the Crime and Courts Act because once you have gone through arbitration you won’t need to have to go through the court process.”
Evison said she was also concerned about the apparent focus by IMPRESS on regulating small local and ‘hyperlocal’ news publishers.
She said: “Hyperlocals are often not staffed by professional journalists. These are often untrained people.
“I don’t see how you can regulate that unless you provide training for these people. That’s a whole different thing.”
Evison also questioned the sustainability of the IMPRESS funding model.
She said: “They have funding from JK Rowling and Max Mosley, but I just think where is this money going to come from in future?”
She added: “I didn’t feel they were making as much progress as they should. It was a bit too academic.
“I was impressed to find out that [IPSO chief executive] Matt Tee spends at least a couple of hours a week sitting on a newsdesk [to observe]. Nobody at IMPRESS has done that.”
Evison said she was also encouraged by recent rulings made by IPSO. She singled out the adjudication last week censuring The Daily Telegraph over a report which claimed Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to be Conservative Party leader. And she noted that IPSO insisted the Telegraph include the IPSO adjudication on its front page."
She said: “It seems like IPSO has taken Leveson on board.”
IMPRESS founder and director Jonathan Heawood said: "In her five months on the IMPRESS Board, Sue Evison brought both knowledge and passion to our work. We ask a lot of our Board members and Sue recently decided to step down because of her personal circumstances. We wish her well.
"We welcome IPSO’s consultation on arbitration but they have a long way to go before they can offer true access to justice for publishers and members of the public.
"IMPRESS will always be entirely independent of government and the newspaper industry but we are proud to work with news publishers of all shapes and sizes, including the dynamic new sector of hyperlocal publishers."
IMPRESS describes it remaining board members as follows:
Walter Merricks CBE (Chair Designate) was the first Chief Ombudsman of the Financial Ombudsman Service, with responsibility for an organisation of 1,500 staff and a £90m budget. He is a member of the Gambling Commission and has been involved in dispute resolution and regulation in the fields of legal services, healthcare, insurance, energy and intellectual property, among others. He has also worked as a legal journalist and academic.
Deborah Arnott is Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), which has a reputation as one of the UK’s most effective campaigning charities. She was awarded the Alwyn Smith prize by the Faculty of Public Health for her role in getting the ban on smoking in public places. After gaining an MBA from Cranfield and working in print and TV journalism she set up and ran the Financial Service Authority’s consumer education function. As a producer and programme editor in current affairs and documentaries she developed and ran a wide range of programmes for ITV and Channel 4.
Iain Christie is a mediator, facilitator and actor with a background as a barrister in human rights and media law. He is an Associate Member of 5RB, the media and entertainment law chambers, having previously served as a legal adviser in HM Diplomatic Service. He is joint Consultant Editor of Tugendhat and Christie: The Law of Privacy and the Media. Iain is Secretary of the Civil Mediation Council and has a particular interest in dispute and conflict resolution through dialogue.
Máire Messenger Davies is Emerita Professor of Media Studies at Ulster University. After working as a journalist on regional newspapers and magazines, she gained a psychology PhD. She has taught in media schools in Boston, Cardiff and London and has conducted research with Ofcom, the IBA, the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the BBC and the DCMS. She is on the board of the Children’s Media Foundation and is the author of several books, including Television is Good for Your Kids.
David Robinson founded the life insurance business Bright Grey in 2001 and grew it swiftly into a commercial success, employing more than 350 staff and overtaking established competitors. An actuary, he previously worked for 30 years at Scottish Provident and more recently as Chair of Engage Mutual Assurance. David is a Governor of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and former Chair of its Audit and Risk Committee. He is also a founder Trustee and Chair of the charity Smalls for All, which supports vulnerable women and children in Africa through the provision of essential personal items.
Patrick Swaffer is President of the British Board of Film Classification, the independent non-statutory body which provides trusted classification for film and video. He also sits as a Recorder in the Crown Court and is a partner in Media Compliance Services. He was for more than 30 years a solicitor with the firm Goodman Derrick, specialising in media law and working principally with broadcasters and book publishers. He frequently advised such clients when disputes arose regarding contentious material both prior to and after publication.