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Sunday 8 December 2013

Press Dress To IMPRESS

IMPRESS? What is this, 1960s London, very bad cars and Michael Caine looking at the baddies through the misted-up glass of a phone box? No, that was IPCRESS (Imposition of Psychoneuroses by Conditioned Reflex under strESS). This is Independent Monitor for the PRESS. It is a modern-day response to moves by an industry that is itself stuck in that derelict 1960s building.
As I noted yesterday, the response of the most part of the Fourth Estate to the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson has been to produce a supposedly “new” press regulator, but one that failed twenty of the 38 Leveson recommendations. The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) was neither independent, nor new. It was a Mark 2 version of the failed PCC.

So we had most of the press in a state of denial, sending its emissaries to tour the studios telling of a “tough” new regulator with the power to levy significant fines, while in reality they were promoting the same, er, fluid in a differently shaped bottle. The media appearances featured the most magnificent displays of shameless dishonesty. But not all papers had signed up to Ipso.

And if there is any part of the press that signs up to a Charter-compliant regulator, that places anyone signed up to Ipso outside the protections offered by a recognised body. IMPRESS states in its prospectus that itwill regulate the press in compliance with Leveson’s criteria”. The body will undertake “complaints handling, arbitration and investigations”. It offers the arbitration service that’s only optional with Ipso.

Most importantly “A ‘sunset clause’ in its Articles of Association would cause IMPRESS to dissolve itself if any future government modified the legal operating environment for press regulation so as to curtail press freedom”. Any attempt by politicians to interfere in the free working of the press would fail: there would be no recognised self-regulator and the system would cease to operate.

It will not be difficult for papers to understand the code under which IMPRESS will initially operate, as this “will, in the first instance, be the editors’ code used by the PCC”. As I’ve pointed out more than once, there is nothing significantly wrong with that code. The problem is that, when push comes to shove, it is the first thing to go out the window. So who is behind IMPRESS?

The good news here is that a significant presence from the successful Libel Reform Campaign has joined IMPRESS, and that Harold Evans has agreed to be the organisation’s Patron. So now we have the truly independent press regulator as envisaged by Leveson when drafting his recommendations. There will undoubtedly be many hatchet jobs performed on it in the coming days and months.

But unlike that film, the Fourth Estate cannot IPCRESS anyone into silence.

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