UK print regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) may soon have some competition. The Independent Monitor for the Press (or Impress), which identifies itself as “the first truly independent press regulator in the UK,” has attracted notice with the impressive inroads it has made in its first two years of existence.
Created in late 2013 after the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and practices, Impress plans to open this spring, the regulator’s CEO, Jonathan Heawood, told iMediaEthics. “The idea was we’d start out by regulating smaller news publications, of which there is a growing number every day,” said Heawood, citing things like hyper-local news outlets and niche websites.
IPSO, which describes itself as “the independent regulator for the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK,” replaced the Press Complaints Commission last September, as iMediaEthics reported at the time.
The family trust of Max Mosley, the former head of Formula 1 racing, “has promised to provide almost all of the organization’s funding with a £3.8 million donation,” or about $5.4 mllion, Press Gazette reported. The Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust donation will “cover the first four year of operation.” Mosley won an invasion of privacy lawsuit against News of the World over its 2008 front-page story headlined, “F1 boss has sick Nazi orgy with 5 hookers,” and spoke in 2011 about the violation at the Leveson Inquiry.
In addition to the news of the funding, Impress said in a Jan. 20 press release that it applied to be recognized by the Press Recognition Panel, which will take “at least four months.”
“At the macro level, the real difference” between IPSO and Impress is that Impress isn’t accountable to publishers, Heawood said. “We would be accountable to the independent body the Press Recognition Panel.” That panel “won’t be overseeing us on a day-to-day basis, but in order for us to get off the ground we have to go to them and show them we meet the Leveson criteria,” Heawood explained.
“IPSO is funded by its members,” the Independent notes. According to the Press Gazette, in addition to the donation from Mosley’s trust, “The 12 publishers to sign up to Impress pay subscriptions of £50, if their turnover is below £100,000, or £550 if they turnover of £100,000 to £1m.”
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How will Impress work?
Impress will handle complaints against news outlets filed by anyone, even if they are not the person affected. “We can accept complaints from anyone personally and directly affected by an alleged breach of the Code, from a representative group affected by the alleged breach (where there is a public interest in the consideration of the complaint) or from a third party seeking to ensure the accuracy of published information,” Impress’ website states.
Impress also has a whistleblowing hotline that is independent, run by a whistle-blowing charity, Public Concern at Work. “Journalists can call the hotline to make anonymous reports” or get advice. The whistleblowing charity can then refer any concerns — anonymously — to Impress and Impress can investigate it if is warranted,” Heawood explained. “Many people feel a power like that could have stopped phone hacking much much earlier.” IPSO has a whistleblowing hotline too but it is run by IPSO’s staff.
In addition, members of Impress won’t have “to pay exemplary damages in privacy and libel cases” and will have an “arbitration scheme for libel and privacy disputes,” the Impress website states.
Impress can fine publications that have run afoul of standards. “We have the power to direct the publisher to make a correction or an apology,” according to Impress’s website. “We also have the power to award financial sanctions (fines) when a publisher has committed serious or systemic breaches of the Code or our governance requirements. We can award sanctions up to 1% of that publication’s turnover, to a maximum of £1m.”
Impress said it has 13 publications already enrolled in its system, but iMediaEthics notes none are major publications. The publications already signed up are: A Little Bit of Stone (Staffordshire), Byline (London), Caerphilly Observer (Wales), New Internationalist (Oxford), On The Wight (Isle of Wight), Port Talbot Magnet (Wales), Positive News (London), Southport Reporter (Merseyside), The Ferret (Scotland), The Lincolnite (Lincolnshire), View Digital (Northern Ireland), Your Harlow (Essex), and Your Thurrock (Essex). Impress wants to start regulating them April 1.