Impress – no longer will it just be a word to describe what you (try to) do on a first date. Impress now is also the name of the first ever officially recognized press regulator in the UK. Essentially, its role is to make sure that newspapers ‘behave themselves’, in the sense that the information they print is accurate and they reach moral and ethical standards in finding and sharing such information. Seems like a brilliant thing, and it certainly has been praised sufficiently. However, many newspapers are raising their voices and arguing that it will in fact threaten freedom of the press.
This marks yet another stage in the re-evaluation of the press following the Leveson Inquiry subsequent to the 2011 exposure of press use of phone hacking. That was just one of several instances which emerged in which the ethics of the press were called into question and why press regulation became a hot topic in politics. It resulted in the press founding an independent regulator, Ipso, and the government creating the Press Recognition Panel to judge the regulators themselves.
Clearly, there is a reason Impress has been welcomed with open arms by campaign groups like Hacked Off. Evan Harris claims that “the days of failed industry-controlled regulators like the PCC and its sham replacement Ipso are numbered”. Clearly, the press must act morally as its impact on people is immense.
Whilst people like Harris complain about the fact that press regulation is currently in the hands of Ipso, which was founded by the industry itself, newspapers argue that Impress would take away their freedom. Obviously, this is just as important. The main issue is that any newspaper not signed up to Impress would have to pay ‘exemplary damages’ in libel cases, regardless of whether they were found guilty or not. This could have devastating effects for any newspaper and explains why people believe it is leaving the press with no choice.
The crux of the issue is clear: how do we safeguard the public and ensure ethical standards in the press whilst maintaining its freedom? Both are important. At the moment, in an anxious social and political environment, it seems the solution is leaning towards taking agency from the press. It’s vital to consider if we really want that.