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Impressions Leveson Inquiry Press Regulation

Press regulation is an opaque mess that reflects badly on media and government - the public are losing

By Chris Boffey

September 2, 2014 | 4 min read

Within days of starting my first job as an indentured junior reporter, I signed up for the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), lured by the protection it offered and the prospect of a trip to a local brewery organised by the branch social secretary.

The tour lasted three hours, we got one pale ale in the tasting room and when we left the pubs were shut. At the next NUJ meeting it was duly recorded in the minutes that the members had passed "by unanimous decision that the honorary social secretary could not organise a piss up in a brewery".

Whenever I see the phrase "press regulation" the brewery story springs to mind along with the description "dogs breakfast". So far, we have two regulatory bodies: the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) set up by some of the papers; and Impress, which is promising to be a neutral regulator backed by former Sunday Times editor Harry Evans; and then the Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard and FT, which seem to be going alone.

On top of this there is the government's recognition panel, which is to oversee regulation but so far has no board members and no one who wants to be recognised.

What seems to have been forgotten in all the fighting between government and the media, different newspaper groups and the pressure group Hacked Off is the general public. The whole idea of getting rid of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) was to have a transparent system, available to the public that had the teeth to keep the industry honest. What we have is an opaque mess that reflects badly on both the media and government.

Ipso will launch on September 8, chaired by Sir Alan Moses and from that date complainants who raise substantive concerns will be referred directly to the publications to resolve their complaints. If the complainants feel that their problems have not been resolved they can go back to Ipso for a judgement and its board, which includes the great and the good of the industry, can fine the publication. The jury is out on whether this will work or just be another body run by newspapers for newspapers.

Impress says that it will regulate publications which believe in standards and operate a complaints system free at the point of use and is an entirely neutral regulator. Its board members are relatively obscure and I will be surprised if it lasts a year as a regulatory body.

Of course, the real losers in this are the public who deserve an effective complaints procedure with teeth and the government that tried to rein in the press and has now backed off at least until the general election in May next year.

If Ipso, which may end up the only show in town, is to work Sir Alan Moses must make sure complaints are dealt with quickly and effectively and not just thrown into the long grass surrounding each newspaper's ombudsman. When newspapers fail to act they should be stamped on but Moses must also realise that there are an awful lot of people who want an ineffective press for their own reasons, and then there is the green ink brigade who can take up an awful lot of time.

Impressions Leveson Inquiry Press Regulation

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