Independence key selling point for Sir Harry's Impress regulator - but funding could be stumbling block - Press Gazette

Independence key selling point for Sir Harry's Impress regulator - but funding could be stumbling block

The backers of a new proposed press regulator called Impress say that independence will be its key selling point.

But funding may be the biggest stumbling block for the body which at present has no financial backing.

Most national newspapers and many regional and magazine publishers have signed contracts on joining the Independent Press Standards Organisation, a replacement body for the Press Complaints Commission which is set to be up and running by 1 May next year.

So far the FT, Independent and Guardian have all declined to sign up to IPSO after previously expressing concern that owners and publishers will have too much control over it.

Impress, which has the blessing of former Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans, closely follows the constitution of IPSO in most respects – and includes contracts to tie members in and the threat of £1m fines. The main difference is that whereas publishers have some influence over IPSO appointments via the Regulatory Funding Company, Impress claims to have a far more independent appointments procedure.

Impress also proposes to get a libel disputes arbitration system up and running immediately, whereas this is optional with IPSO.

Whereas IPSO does not seek to conform to the cross-party Royal Charter on press regulation, Impress does – meaning members could have protection from punitive libel costs under the Crime and Courts Act.

Former director of free speech group English Pen Jonathan Heawood is behind the Impress scheme. He is also a former Observer journalist and now works as a media and charity consultant.

He said: “Impress doesn’t allow members of the House of Lords on the board like IPSO does and it does not have the same level of industry control.

“Under IPSO the Regulatory Funding Company appears to have veto over most appointments and direct authority over the code committee. That’s the way the PCC worked.

“We have a majority independent board, an independent code committee and we also want to get arbitration up and running as soon as possible.

“The big difference is we want to have a conversation with a lot of journalists and editors to find out what they think to see if we can work with them rather than imposing it from above.”

IPSO is looking to raise some £2m a year to fund its work via fees from publishers. To date, Impress as no funding.

Heawood said: “If there is a real appetite for this we are going to need some serious start-up funding. It is going to have to either come from within the industry or possibly from a foundation that supports free speech.”

Heawood said that IPSO doesn’t match the requirements put forward by Sir Brian Leveson in his report last year and that he hoped that a regulator could be created which does – whether that is a version of IPSO, a version of Impress or some other body.



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Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette