In July last year, we wrote a post about developments since the Leveson report (published in 2012). At that time, we had understood that some legal changes were due in November, but in fact the relevant sections (of the Crime and Courts Act 2013) have not yet taken effect.
During the Leveson inquiry, it became evident that the Press Complaints Commission was not really a regulator or a restraint on the excesses of the press at all, and had been largely ineffective. It was agreed that it would be wound up, but its replacement, IPSO, is also a ‘self-regulator’ and has stated that it does not intend to comply with Leveson’s recommendations for a truly independent regulator. Even its chair, Sir Alan Moses, describes it as ‘much better than nothing‘, rather than a robust enforcer of standards. There are numerous examples of its laxity when its Code of Practice is breached – for example, its feeble reponse to the most complained about story last year, the outrageous (and untrue) Sun ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ Sympathy with Jihadis’.
Although IPSO has no intention of applying to the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) for recognition as an independent regulator, another organisation has applied – the IMPRESS Project. Their application has been subject to continuous delays because of objections by third parties. IPSO is subscribed to by most of the large newspapers (all except the Guardian, Independent and FT.) Only relatively small news organisations have subscribed to IMPRESS to date.
So, why is IMPRESS seen by the Murdoch and Mail empires as a threat? The answer appears to lie with Parliament’s intention that sections 34-42 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 are to be fully implemented if and when the PRP recognises a regulator – any regulator. Sections 39 and 40 make it possible for far higher damages and costs awards to be made against newspapers in privacy and libel actions than at present – but those subscribing to an approved regulator will be protected from these provisions. Therefore, if IMPRESS is recognised by the PRP, there may be a huge financial incentive to subscribe to it (or other new regulators that may emerge). A detailed analysis by Greg Callus, however, concludes that section 40 (costs awards) can be commenced only by the Secretary of State, not automatically.
IMPRESS has issued its own draft Code of Practice for consultation. You can read about it, and respond, here.
The IMPRESS site describes itself as ‘blazing a trail for a fairer, better kind of press regulation’. There can be little doubt that it is fairer, as, unlike IPSO, it is independent of the press giants against whom almost all complaints are made. Whether it will ever be allowed to be ‘better’, depends on whether it is given a chance of fulfilling its aim of genuine Leveson-style recognition, in the face of the powerful forces which oppose it.