Royal Charter-backed press regulator Impress is almost entirely funded by £3.8m from the family charity of press reform campaign Max Mosley. Newspaper publishers have voiced strong opposition to Impress and to legislation imposing financial penalties on them if they don’t sign up to a regulator which has approval from the government-backed Press Recognition Panel. Here Mosley responds:
The tabloids have labeled Impress, the newly-recognised press regulator, “mine”. Of course this is nonsense. A glance at the Press Recognition Panel website shows that. Our family charity has put up money but has absolutely no influence over Impress. It is completely independent.
Compare this with the so-called Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), paid for by the large newspaper proprietors who retain a massive amount of control. Even the very limited information revealed by IPSO makes this clear.
My family’s support for Impress is a public service, that’s why it’s charitable. If necessary, funds are available to support Impress until at least 2026. But we would much rather add to our existing donations for science, engineering and medical research plus other useful causes.
We have supported Impress because there is a desperate need for a regulator backed by Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. Without it, nothing will change. Six times since World War 2, the major newspapers have promised reform in response to public anger. Each time they have reneged as soon as the furore died down.
To understand why Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act is so important, consider a very wealthy, but dodgy, individual investigated by a major newspaper.
Without Section 40 he sues the newspaper. He knows he will probably lose and be ordered to pay the newspaper’s costs. But – and here’s the problem – the newspaper will only get about 70 per cent of its lawyers’ bills.
So it can be hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket in a big case.
Of course it will cost Mr Dodgy himself several times more, but he doesn’t care. He has effectively fined the newspaper a huge sum and knows he is unlikely to be troubled again.
With Section 40, the newspaper could invite him to inexpensive arbitration. It would explain that if he insists on his right to go to court, the judge will be asked to award indemnity costs against him, whatever the outcome. This would make him think twice about trying to intimidate the newspaper.
The same would apply to a rich individual confronting a small local newspaper or website. Their response: accept inexpensive arbitration or pay all the costs.
At present, without Section 40, the wealthy can effectively silence anyone who can’t afford the costs. Until the government commences Section 40, this gives the rich unconscionable power over journalism.
Then there’s the ordinary member of the public. I remember saying to Sir Brian Leveson during his Inquiry that I thought it quite wrong that only one per cent of the population could afford to sue a major newspaper. His reply was “I think you’ll find it’s less than that”.
We cannot claim we live under the rule of law if only a tiny minority can afford to take on a major newspaper. Given Impress, and the possibility of inexpensive arbitration, you have to question why the big newspaper proprietors are so hostile to the Leveson reforms. Are they against inexpensive arbitration because they intend to continue infringing rights?
The idea that there is any threat to freedom of the press from Impress and Section 40 is laughable. On the contrary, the Leveson reforms guarantee the right of all newspapers to investigate and publish without the risk of ruinous costs. At the same time inexpensive arbitration gives the public access to justice.
The ultimate rebuttal of the tabloid claim that Impress would end freedom of the press is the support of the National Union of Journalists. More than anyone, its members want and need a free press. But they know that this will never come from a clique of billionaire tax exiles and their tame IPSO. Real journalists need Impress.