House of Lords on Press Regulation

“Press Regulation: where are we now?” report released

On 23 March, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications released its report: Press Regulation: where are we now?

The Committee’s report discusses the history of press regulation, what has happened since the publication of the Leveson Report in November 2012 and how the current system of press regulation operates. The report goes on to set out key issues which in the view of the Select Committee require clarification, and key questions/concerns for the press, regulators and the Government.

The reports states that no press regulatory body which presently exists complies with the requirements set out in the Leveson Report. In particular the Committee is critical of the lack of whistle-blowing arrangements (a whistle-blowing hotline has recently been set up by IPSO), and of an arbitration system for early resolution of complaints (both IPSO and IMPRESS are investigating how to implement this).

IPSO, the report said, was not Leveson-compliant because there is not a sufficient degree of independence in the selection of board members, nor sufficient detachment for its funding body, which owns the Editors’ Code of Practice. Indeed the Regulatory Funding Company not only owns the Code in terms of its relationship with IPSO, but also owns the copyright in the Code – if other regulators wish to use the Code they will need to licence it (the Financial Times has done so for the purposes of its in-house system of regulation). The Committee noted that the Chairman of IPSO, Sir Alan Moses, was seeking to make certain changes which would fulfil more of the main Leveson recommendations. However, IPSO has made clear that it will not seek to be accredited by the Press Recognition Panel set up under the Royal Charter.

IMPRESS, the rival press regulator, is not yet fully set up, and at present has no members. It has not yet committed to whether or not it will seek accreditation by the Press Recognition Panel.

Without an approved regulator, certain of the legislative “carrots and sticks” in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 cannot come into force; but others will. The position is as follows:

– The exemplary damages provisions (sections 34-39) will come into force one year after the establishment of the Press Recognition Panel – this will be 3 November 2015.

– The costs provisions (section 40), however, will not come into force until a body has been recognised as an approved regulator.

The Committee expressed the view that potential claimants may be confused as to how to make a complaint and what redress they may achieve because there is more than one regulator. The position is that in all cases the first port of call will be the newspaper itself. Only if the matter cannot be resolved by direct correspondence with the newspaper will it be appropriate to take the matter to a regulator – for most national newspapers this will be IPSO, but the Guardian, Financial Times and Independent have their own arrangements, each of which is explained on the newspaper’s website.

The Committee directed some key questions at the Government, asking:

– When the Government intends to assess the measures take by the press?

– Whether the situation whereby the majority of the press refuse to sign-up to a regulator approved under the arrangements set out in the Royal Charter will be allowed continue indefinitely? And if not, under what circumstances the Government would take further action?

The report, together with a statement from the Chairman of the Committee, Lord Best, can be found here.