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31 October 2016

NMA Response to PRP’s Decision to Recognise Regulator Funded by Max Mosley

Lawyers acting for the News Media Association (NMA) have written today to the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) in response to their decision last week to recognise IMPRESS as an approved regulator (letter attached).

They say the IMPRESS scheme of regulation falls short of the recognition criteria in a number of material respects which are not capable of cure and that there are grounds for judicial review of the decision. They expect to be writing with a formal pre-action protocol letter following receipt of further information requested from the PRP.

One of the areas highlighted in the letter is the source of funding of IMPRESS which is “a matter of grave concern. In our view the funding arrangements between the AMCT, IPRT and IMPRESS demonstrate that IMPRESS is neither reliably nor independently funded.

“AMCT is a Max Mosley family trust. The IPRT is the recipient of a grant (under the Grant Agreement of 30 October 2015) from the AMCT. It in turn funds IMPRESS. The recognition requirements in the Scheme of Recognition of the Royal Charter require the PRP to consider the ‘reliability’ of funding. Clause 3.2(a) of the Grant Agreement entitles AMCT to terminate or decrease funding to IPRT if AMCT’s trustees reasonably consider that the funding is not reasonably required to advance IPRT’s purposes. AMCT has no obligation to inform IPRT of its grounds for invoking clause 3.2(a). The effect of these arrangements is that AMCT controls the funding and may remove funding unilaterally. That is not sufficient to discharge the recognition requirements of reliable funding.”

The Royal Charter emphasises that the regulator must be independent. “This is the backbone of the recommendations in the Leveson report which gave rise to the Royal Charter.” The Grant Agreement “effectively gives the AMCT, and thus Mr Mosley,  a monopoly over the funding arrangements of IMPRESS. The funding of IMPRESS cannot reasonably be said to be independent.”

Other areas highlighted include the absence of an IMPRESS standards code, IMPRESS’ failure to establish a system of self-regulation for relevant publishers, and the lack of any prospect that IMPRESS will ever be able effectively to regulate the press.

IMPRESS had adopted the Editors’ Code against which the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) regulates its members. “That Code is not the responsibility of IMPRESS and IMPRESS has no copyright in the Code.” IMPRESS had consulted on its own draft standards code but no such code had yet been adopted. “It is unlawful for the PRP to approve a regulator without assessing the standards code against which it is to regulate its members.”

By its own admission, IMPRESS had not been established by relevant publishers and it appeared to have only a small minority of relevant publishers within its membership.

“Sir Brian Leveson stated that a regulatory body should ‘be established by the industry, that it be able to secure the voluntary support and membership of the entire industry.’ IMPRESS clearly fails to meet this requirement… IMPRESS is, quite simply, unable effectively to regulate the press as it will not secure membership or support of a significant part of the industry, let alone its entirety.”

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Notes: The News Media Association is the voice of national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK: a £5 billion sector read by 48 million adults every month in print and online. Its members are the biggest investors in news, accounting for two-thirds of the total spent on news provision in the UK, with most of the remainder spent by broadcasters including the BBC.