Impress applies for official recognition and names 12, mainly hyperlocal, members

Would-be press regulator Impress has submitted its application to the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) and named its first 12 members.

Hyperlocal news websites A Little Bit of Stone (Staffordshire), the Caerphilly Observer (Wales), Port Talbot Magnet (Wales), Southport Reporter (Merseyside), The Lincolnite (Lincolnshire), Your Harlow (Essex) and Your Thurrock (Essex) have signed up.

Impress has also named the New Internationalist, an independent, investigative, non-profit media co-operative, and Northern Ireland-based View Digital, which covers the community and voluntary sector, as members.

Crowdfunded websites Positive News, Byline and The Ferret, based in Scotland, are also on board.

The PRP was created in 2014 as a result of a cross-party press regulation Royal Charter passed in 2013.

Under the Royal Charter, if a press regulator is recognised by the PRP – by meeting the criteria set out in Lord Justice Leveson's 2012 report – its members would be protected from paying claimants’ legal costs under a clause in the Crime and Courts Act.

However, the Government has hinted that it is unlikely to enact this clause. Members of an officially recognised regulator are, however, protected from having exemplary damages awarded against them in civil cases.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which has regulated the majority of the news publishing media since September 2014, has not applied for recognition under the PRP, and has never intended to.

Impress said the recognition pricess is expected to last at least four months.

Under the terms of the Royal Charter, recognition for Impress would mean IPSO members would be forced to pay both sides' legal costs in libel and privacy cases. However, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said in October that he was "not persuaded" by the law.

He said at the time: "At the moment I am not persuaded that the time is right for the introduction of these costs provisions given the changes underway in the industry, the introduction of the exemplary damages provisions and the pressures on the industry."

Walter Merricks, chairman of Impress, said: “This marks a new era for independent press regulation.  It is a significant moment for us and one which has taken a lot of hard work to achieve; we believe that we meet the requirements for recognition and we will now wait and see if the Panel accepts that we are independent and effective, properly funded and able to protect the public.

“We are proud to say that we have ten publishers from all over the UK who have signed up with us on this important day.  At least 30 other publishers have said they are interested in joining us, some of which we are still in discussions with and others who would prefer to join once we have been recognised.

“Whilst we will regulate these titles with fairness and vigour we will also support them in their desire to publish great journalism.  This is what makes Impress distinctive.”

Rachel Howells, of the Port Talbot Magnet, said: “Independent regulation means we can continue carrying out robust journalism for the public good, and also enables us to be taken seriously by readers and the establishment.  It is a demonstration of our ethical commitment to reporting sensitively and well.”

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