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  1. Media Law
July 10, 2024

Impress opens up dispute resolution service to all publishers and others

Section 40, a legal tool designed to induce publishers to sign up to Impress, was repealed in May.

By Bron Maher

Press regulator Impress has opened its media-focused legal dispute resolution service to all publishers, members of the public and charities as an alternative to costly court cases.

Impress has already resolved claims against its member publishers via arbitration, and says it is now seeking to expand the service “in an effort to redress harms arising in the media and the power imbalance caused by the cost of the British court system”.

Rival press regulator IPSO also offers an arbitration service for settling claims against its member publishers.

The commercial expansion of Impress comes less than two months after the passage of the Media Bill repealed Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which would have made membership of Royal Charter-backed press regulators such as Impress highly beneficial for publishers.

Courts have ‘simply become too expensive’

Impress said in a release on Wednesday: “By opting out of the court process, you can still get a legally binding outcome by seeking alternative dispute resolution. The only difference is that you’ll get a result much faster and for less money.”

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It told Press Gazette the scheme “will be handling typical media disputes such as defamation and libel, but also cases involving freedom of speech and SLAPPs [strategic lawsuits against public participation], data, privacy and information law (including GDPR) and commercial disputes for media, civil society and non-profit organisations. We will also be establishing our expertise in disputes with online platforms, such as IP and copyright infringement, and terms of service claims.”

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The Impress website lists prices for remote and in-person mediation services as well as arbitration services. Mediation involves a third-party helping two parties come to an agreement, whereas in arbitration the third-party is effectively a judge, hearing arguments from each party before issuing a legally-binding decision.

Impress’ remote mediation services cost £100 per hour per party and in-person mediation costs £500 per party for each slot of four hours. Arbitration costs vary depending on the value of the dispute and the turnover of the organisations involved, but start at £1,750 per party and run up to £3,750 per party.

Impress-regulated publishers will continue to have access to these services at no extra cost. As well as the above one-off services, the regulator has launched a dispute resolution service membership that costs to up to £31,200 per year for organisations at the highest risk of getting into disputes.

Cordella Bart-Stewart, a solicitor and Impress board member, said alternative dispute resolution “is an alternative pathway to justice. It is often recommended by judges that parties be sent away to at least try it, and in some cases there can be financial penalties if a party has refused to consider ADR before issuing court proceedings”.

Impress chief executive Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana (pictured above) said that courts had “simply become too expensive”.

“Ordinary people are effectively powerless if they are unfairly targeted by a well-resourced platform, media group or corporation while the likes of independent publishers, content creators, activists and charities have no option but to cave in when met with a legal threat from those in positions of power designed to intimidate and silence them.

“Now, thanks to Impress’ tried and tested out-of-court procedures, everyone can get affordable and binding resolution, leaving them free to hold power to account and safe in the knowledge that they can access justice when they are wronged.”

What was Section 40?

Impress was designed as the first UK press regulator to be compliant with the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry. However because it was backed up by law it was seen by many publishers as government intrusion on the free press, prompting them to sign up to rival regulator IPSO, which is not Leveson-compliant and is ultimately run by the publishers themselves.

The 2010 to 2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government attempted to induce publishers to sign up to Impress by passing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which made publishers who were not signed up to a Leveson-compliant regulator liable for both sides’ costs in the event of legal action, even if they won.

The flip side of this bargain was that publishers signed up to Impress would be protected, through the Impress dispute resolution services, from strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. But Section 40, although passed, was not enacted, and was widely seen by major publishers as a threatening “sword of Damocles” hanging over the industry.

Impress oversees around 200 largely smaller, digital-native publications including The Ferret, Desmog, Novara Media and, more recently, Prospect magazine.

Previous Impress chief executive Ed Procter told Press Gazette in 2022 that the organisation was investigating “expanding our commercial services” in a bid to diversify its funding, a large part of which ultimately originated from a trust set up by privacy campaigner Max Mosley.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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