Leveson rides again: News that his Recognition Panel is open for business could have a major impact on journalism

Following the minutiae of the debate around press regulation sometimes bores even me. But bear with me because news that the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) is now open for business is a development which could have major repercussions for all journalists.

The current Government appears to support self regulation of the press via the Independent Press Standards Organisation. But the state-backed press regulation system set in train by the 2012 Leveson report trundles forward and looks set to be in place by the end of the year.

The PRP has funding of £3m and a remit to recognise press regulators under the Royal Charter on press regulation which received royal assent in 2013.

IPSO has no intention of seeking official recognition because it does not comply with the Royal Charter – particularly when it comes to independence from the industry.

But rival press regulator Impress does follow the Royal Charter and will be seeking official recognition from the PRP.

Once Impress gets the thumbs up from the PRP, possibly later this year, the provisions of the Crime and Courts Act kick in which mean that publishers could have to pay both sides' legal costs even if they win a privacy or libel case.

Conversely, PRP chair David Wolfe (pictured) believes that membership of an officially-recognised regulator would give its member publications a sort of shield of invincibility when it comes to libel and privacy actions.

He told me in June:

If you are publishing and you are part of a recognised regulator and somebody sues you, you won’t get any costs against you. At the moment if you’re the Salford Star and somebody threatens to sue you, you run the risk of having to pay their costs. That risk will be taken away from you.

You get a letter from Carter Ruck or whatever, you get your lawyers involved – you are paying your own lawyers to respond to their lawyers and also if they do sue you, you might end up having to pay their costs.

You could basically say to them: ‘I can’t stop you suing me but if you do sue me you won’t get your costs back if you win or lose – I suggest you go through our regulator’s arbitration process which is designed to be cheap for both of us'.”

The devil will be in the detail. IPSO is setting up its own arbitration scheme which could give members some of the same benefits.

But it could yet be that the financial incentive to join Impress will see some major publishers join it whatever their concerns about state involvement in press regulation. The FT, Guardian and Independent are currently regulated by no-one and will have to get off the fence at some point if they are to maintain their credibility.

So the press regulation debate is very much a live one. And if the consequences of shunning Hacked Off's favoured system of press regulation are millions more in legal fees it will be interesting to see how long IPSO member publishers can afford to stick to their principles.

Sir Brian Leveson said he didn't want his report to just gather dust on a shelf somewhere. Well today, Leveson rides again.

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