What’s going on with UK press regulation?

A SLOVENIAN colleague asks: "What's going on with press regulation in the UK?" Deep breath! Here is an attempt at a condensed answer.

From Spring 2011, News International began publicly admitting liability and paying compensation to people whose phones the News of the World had tapped, including that of murdered Milly Dowler. This resulted in NotW being closed down.

Lord Leveson, a senior judge, was appointed in 2011 to conduct an inquiry into the "culture, practices and ethics of the press". His 2012 report identified misdeeds. It recommended replacing the old Press Complaints Council (PCC) which the NUJ has long denounced as owner-controlled.

But how to carry out Leveson's recommendations? State regulation of the press is scary. So a Royal Charter was concocted - formally set up by the Crown, not the government. Under the Charter an Independent Appointments Panel would select members of a Recognition Panel to decide whether to recognise one or more press regulation organisations.

The NUJ supported Leveson's outline of independent regulation (it being the least bad visible idea).

How to persuade publishers to take part? With a stick. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 provides that when a publisher not registered with an "approved regulator" is sued for defamation, the court "must" award costs against the publisher, win or lose. (The courts are left with technical discretion.) Section 40 also makes the court more likely to impose "exemplary damages" to deter others from malpractice. If a publisher is registered with an "approved regulator" then the court "must not" award costs against it (again, with some discretion). That's a big stick, given the six- and seven-digit costs common in UK defamation cases. Under the Act Ministers can bring this into effect when they choose: they haven't.

In October 2013 the Privy Council, formally a body of advisers to the Queen, granted a Royal Charter to govern a press regulation system - despite a last-minute court challenge by publishers including News International and the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Telegraph. In 2014 these objecting publishers set up IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) and it started hearing complaints. Trevor Kavanagh, assistant editor of the Sun, sits on its board. Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre chairs the Editors' Code Committee, alongside non-editor members.

Dacre had sat on the old Press Complaints Commission, which then ceased operation. Like the PCC, IPSO is funded by publishers.

In November 2014 the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) was formed to recognise press regulation bodies under the Charter procedure. IPSO did not apply to the PRP.

In January 2016 Impress (The Independent Monitor of the Press) was launched. As of 30 October 2016 the most prominent publications it regulated were the Waltham Forest Echo and New Internationalist. Its website does not report it having ruled on any complaints.

Impress is largely funded by a charitable trust founded by Max Moseley, who in 2008 won damages from NotW for invasion of privacy.

The Guardian, Financial Times and Independent have not signed up to either Impress or IPSO; nor have many magazine publishers. They run their own complaints systems.

An 11 October House of Lords amendment to the Investigatory Powers Bill extended the rule on paying both sides' costs to publishers accused of phone-hacking, but was overturned by the Commons.

On 25 October 2016, the Press Recognition Panel agreed to recognise Impress.

Impress having become an "approved regulator" it is open to the government to bring Section 40 of the 2013 Act into force. The government announced on 1 November a further 10-week consultation on Section 40. And it is consulting on the promised Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry, looking at claims about phone hacking and relations between publishers and the police...

Campaign group Hacked Off is saying "just get on with it": the NUJ is working on a response.