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January 15, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:21am

Newspaper publishers drop legal challenge over recognition of press regulator Impress under Royal Charter

By Freddy Mayhew

The News Media Association has dropped its legal challenge against the Press Recognition Panel over its decision to recognise alternative press regulator Impress under Royal Charter.

The move comes two days before an appeal hearing was due to take place after the NMA, which represents UK news publishers, lost a judicial review into the PRP’s decision at the High Court in October 2017.

The PRP was established in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry under the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press. It rules on whether press regulators meet the charter’s 29 criteria.

The NMA said it had “decided to settle its legal action” with the PRP following the Government’s commitment to repeal the Section 40 amendment to the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

A spokesperson said that “no useful purpose would be served in continuing with the action”, but added: “In the unlikely event that any future Government would seek to implement Section 40 or any variation on it, the NMA reserves the right to challenge such a decision in the courts.”

Section 40 would force publishers not signed up to a Royal Charter-recognised press regulator (currently only Impress) to pay both sides’ legal fees in court battles, win or lose.

Theresa May’s Government has said it would kill off the amendment, but it remains dormant on the statute books. The Independent Press Standards Organisation regulates the majority of UK newspapers and magazines.

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Impress chief executive Jonathan Heawood (pictured) said: “We are pleased that the NMA has finally dropped its groundless legal challenge against Impress.

“We always believed that the NMA’s case was bound to fail – a position it now appears to have accepted by dropping the case and agreeing to pay most of our costs.”

The NMA originally argued that the panel misinterpreted and misapplied the 29 Royal Charter criteria when approving Impress in October 2016.

It maintains that the panel’s decision was “deeply flawed” and that Impress in fact did not meet the definition of a regulator under the charter.

The NMA has also cited Impress’s dependence on funding from former motorsport boss Max Mosley, through two charities, as one of the main reasons it should not have been recognised by the PRP.

PRP chairman David Wolfe said: “We are pleased that the NMA has seen sense and withdrawn its appeal.

“The original High Court judgement confirmed that the PRP acted independently, transparently and correctly when we recognised Impress two years ago and that our interpretation of our Royal Charter was sound.

“The judges considered the findings of the Leveson report and the procedures that we followed when making our decision and they found that the NMA’s case simply didn’t hold water.

“Our decision followed three rounds of open consultation, during which the NMA and others shared their views, and we considered them all. The assessment was rigorous and subject to public scrutiny, and we’re pleased the Court noted the thoroughness of our process.

“We are continuing to do the job we were set up to do following the Leveson inquiry and we remain committed to a system of independent regulatory oversight that ensures the freedom of the press and protects the public.”

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