High Court rejects challenge over status of UK’s press regulator

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The UK’s officially recognised press regulator, Impress, has fought off a High Court challenge over its status.

The News Media Association (NMA), which represents publishers, said Impress should not have been given formal approval a year ago by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), which was set up under a royal charter after the Leveson inquiry.

NMA said the PRP misinterpreted and misapplied the charter.

But in London on Thursday, Lady Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Popplewell rejected its case.

The chairman of Impress, Walter Merricks, said: “This judgment shows that the system of externally verified self-regulation, recommended by Sir Brian Leveson, is fully functional. We can now get on with the important job of upholding high standards of journalism.

“At a time when the news publishing industry is under massive pressure, Impress is uniquely able to reduce publishers’ legal risks and enhance their standing in the eyes of audiences and advertisers.

“We are grateful for the ongoing support of the NUJ, Sir Harry Evans and many others in and around the industry, and sorry that the NMA have wasted so much time attacking Impress, which meets the standards that they refuse to meet.”

Max Mosley
Max Mosley (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Impress’s dependence on third-party funding from former motor sport mogul Max Mosley was one of the reasons why it should not have been recognised, said NMA.

Lord Pannick QC argued that, while Impress was dependent on Mr Mosley – “a proponent of strict regulation of the press” – it did not matter where the money came from.

What mattered was that it must come from the funds of those being regulated.

Ben Jaffey QC, for the PRP, said that the decision to grant recognition, which the judges refused to quash, was “unimpugnable”.

It was taken after three rounds of open consultation durIng which NMA more than once advanced its views.

Impress was an independent self-regulatory body and its funding was settled in agreement with the industry within the meaning of the charter, he added.

There was no requirement that funding be provided from the industry or from anywhere in particular.

The Leveson Report recognised that there was no objection in principle to funding, especially in the start-up phase of a regulator’s existence, being provided by third parties, and did not suggest that such funding was inappropriate.

Mr Jaffey said that Impress’s funding, which derived from the Alexander Mosley Charitable Trust, was provided under a grant agreement with the Independent Press Regulation Trust, a separate charity with different trustees.

The funding was, in the lawful judgment of the panel, sufficiently secure from withdrawal.

Most national newspapers have signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), a voluntary independent body not backed by the Government.

They fear that the recognition of Impress could trigger legislation forcing newspapers to pay the costs of libel or privacy actions against them, even if they win their cases.

David Wolfe, chair of the PRP, said: “This judgment categorically and bluntly rejects all of the NMA’s arguments, and confirms that the PRP board acted independently, transparently and correctly when we recognised Impress. The judges considered the findings of the Leveson report and the procedures that we followed when making our decision, and found that the NMA’s case didn’t stack up.

“The PRP board recognised Impress because the regulator meets the 29 criteria in the royal charter – it’s as simple as that. Our decision followed three rounds of open consultation, during which the NMA and others advanced their views, and there was rigorous examination of the regulator’s application.

“We are pleased that the court noted the thoroughness of our assessment process, and we will continue to work in the public interest to promote a free press in a free and fair society.”

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