The Press Recognition Panel (PRP) has published its latest annual report on the UK’s system of independent press regulation [pdf]. The report states that there is currently one approved press regulator – IMPRESS – and that the recognition system does not currently cover all significant relevant publishers as some continue to resist joining the recognition system.

The report notes that the boundaries between the press and some social media platforms is dissolving and that there is an ongoing national debate over how to regulate social media platforms.

David Wolfe QC, Chair of the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), said:

“Ironically, some news publishers are calling for tougher regulation of the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter despite themselves avoiding independent regulation. A potential consequence of this is that a system of state regulation for social media platforms could subsequently be applied to the press.

“We agree that there are social media sites that act as relevant publishers at least in some of what they do.  For those platforms, a system of regulatory oversight exists in the form of the recognition system. All relevant publishers should consider joining an approved regulator or setting up their own, which could apply for recognition.

The report explains that the recognition system is currently frustrated by political involvement. Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 has not been commenced and this means the public is not protected in the way that was intended.

David Wolfe QC, added:

“It is too soon to consider state regulation of the press. The system of independent regulation that was devised following the Leveson Inquiry must be given a chance to operate first: section 40 should be commenced immediately. Not doing so, supports only the interests of the particular section of the press who oppose it. If the new system was allowed to operate as intended, that would protect the public as well as promote a free and vibrant press. It would also remove political interference from press regulation.”

The report notes that the existence of the PRP and the Charter and having section 40 remain on the on the statute books has led to some limited improvements in standards. For example, although the complaints handling body IPSO runs a voluntary arbitration scheme, it has introduced a compulsory version for some publishers, which provides increased public safeguards. Nevertheless, based on limited publicly available information, IPSO does not come close to meeting all the Charter criteria, which means the public is not fully protected in the way that Sir Brian Leveson intended. Some other publishers have complaints systems but the information available to assess even their independence is limited.

Commenting on the report the director of Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press, Kyle Taylor commented

“The recognition system is the only way to ensure that newspaper regulation is free from political interference so that journalists can do their jobs without hindrance and that the public are protected from press misconduct.

“The Panel’s report today confirms what we already knew: IPSO falls hopelessly short of the requirements for recognition. A politician exercises a veto over rule changes, its standards are written by editors and in the last five years it hasn’t managed a single fine or investigation.

“IPSO is having a corrosive effect on freedom of expression in our country, by failing to be a check on fake news and allowing a politician influence over press regulation. This poses a grave and immediate danger to democracy itself, which relies on a free and accountable press to function.”

“The Government should listen to the Panel’s recommendations and introduce access to justice for media claimants immediately so that we can restore faith in journalism once again.”