Written evidence submitted by the Press Recognition Panel





Press Recognition Panel evidence to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Media Bill by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Introduction — the Press Recognition Panel (PRP)

1.                  Established following the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press, the PRP guards the guardians of the press which followed extensive abuse and alleged criminality by large sections of the press. We apply minimum standards to protect the public, while helping to ensure that the press can operate freely, openly and without state interference within the rule of law.

2.                  Our role is to ensure that press self-regulators do their job fairly and independently, that they protect the public from intrusion, unfair treatment or abuse and that they report responsibly. We do this by recognising organisations as ‘Approved Regulators of the Press’. This follows an assessment against a set of minimum standards and then monitoring their ongoing compliance against those standards. News publishers can then join an Approved Regulator, agreeing to abide by their standards code, requirements for complaints handling and resolution as well as participating in their arbitration scheme.

3.                  However, the system of independent self-regulation envisaged by Parliament following the Leveson recommendations has never been fully implemented. This leaves the public at risk and, in many cases, unable to seek redress outside of expensive and complex legal proceedings.

4.                  The ‘recognition system’ as it is known is a voluntary system of self-regulation designed to balance public protection with news publishers’ freedom of speech. While many news publishers have joined the sole Approved Regulator currently recognised under the system, many more have chosen to remain outside of this voluntary self-regulatory scheme. This means that complaints systems are arbitrary and that, in many cases, redress is out of reach for all but the wealthiest who have the means to pursue a claim through the courts.

5.                  Because we are established under Royal Charter, which cannot be amended without the unanimous decision of the PRP Board and a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, we can act independently without undue influence from Government, the industry itself or any other party. This also protects the freedom of the press as the minimum (but high) standards expressed in the Royal Charter are safeguarded from further extension to the regulatory framework removing the risk of regulatory over-reach.

The draft Media Bill

6.                  While the draft Media Bill predominantly deals with broadcasters, one clause concerns itself with news publishers. Clause 43 of the draft Media Bill ‘Award of costs’ repeals Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. We believe this to be a grave mistake.

7.                  Section 40, never commenced, was designed to underpin the recognition system by protecting news publishers’ freedom of speech and, in the event of a member of the public experiencing harm at the hands of the press, it potentially provides affordable access to justice for them should that news publisher not be a member of an Approved Regulator.

8.                  In a voluntary system of self-regulation, Section 40 was designed to give an advantage to news publishers subscribing to an Approved Regulator by encouraging the use of low-cost arbitration over costly court proceedings to resolve disputes. Consequently, if commenced, it would support minimum standards of press conduct and enable timely and proportionate routes to redress in instances where those standards have not been met.

9.                  Many news publishers have taken the progressive step of joining the only recognised self-regulatory scheme so far (Impress). However, without Section 40 there is no tangible advantage for news publishers to do so, beyond achieving the kitemark that they are committed to the ethical journalistic and editorial practices expressed in the Approved Regulator’s Standards Code[1].

10.             Repealing Section 40, without putting in place any alternative mechanism, would undermine participation in press self-regulation contrary to cross-party Parliamentary intention in 2013.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013

11.             Section 40, although receiving cross-party agreement, has never been commenced. Claims have been made that it would expose news publishers to ruinous costs. Yet no evidence has been presented to support these views which instead focus on the penalties for non-membership of an Approved Regulator while ignoring the protections that it gives to members of an Approved Regulator, and also the public interest in accessible justice.

12.             Section 40 exposes news publishers, who are not members of an Approved Regulator, in the event of a relevant claim[2] being made against them, to the award of costs for both parties whether they win or lose the case (subject to exceptions). This mechanism enables members of the public, where there is no other route for redress, to make a relevant claim through the courts who may otherwise not be able to do so on the grounds of cost.

13.             Conversely, a news publisher who is a member of an Approved Regulator, would be protected from the award of costs, win or lose, if a relevant claim were brought against them, which could otherwise have been resolved through the Approved Regulator’s arbitration processes. This protects news publishers from wealthy individuals and organisations seeking to misuse the courts to stifle investigative journalism (known as ‘Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation’ or ‘’SLAPPs’). We argue that this is a key protection for freedom of speech.

Press self-regulation

14.             The model of press self-regulation, over statutory regulation, was chosen deliberately to avoid undermining the principle of freedom of speech while protecting the public. However, a self-regulatory system can only function if the relevant organisations participate. Where there is no tangible advantage to participating, organisations are unlikely to do so, and the regulatory benefits to public protection lost.

15.             Independent press self-regulation under the recognition system has been operational since 2016 and proven itself to be effective. Impress has been recognised as an Approved Regulator and now has over a hundred news publishers subscribing to its regulatory scheme. In two Cyclical Reviews, Impress has continued to demonstrate that it is independent of both Government and the industry, has published robust standards and deals with complaints in a timely, effective and impartial manner.

16.             However, the majority of news publishers are not members of Impress choosing instead to either become members of a complaint handling body called the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), operate their own in-house standards or operate no complaints resolution system at all.

17.             During the consultation in 2016 on the repeal of Section 40, the (then) Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee considered the merit of partially implementing Section 40 to provide the advantage to news publishers (the protection from costs if they were a member of an Approved Regulator) without the penalty (the automatic award of costs if they were not a member of an Approved Regulator). And without this penalty, it is rare, even if successful, for a claimant to be able to recover all their costs which can be a significant disincentive to bring a claim.

18.             The Committee expressed the view that this measured approach could be used to test whether it would encourage membership of an Approved Regulator. However, the Committee also expressed concern that ‘if IPSO is not Leveson-compliant in a year then Section 40 should be commenced in full[3].

19.             IPSO, to date, has not made an application for recognition as an Approved Regulator and we have not undertaken a detailed review of their compliance against the minimum standards set out in the Royal Charter. However, as part of our 7th Annual State of Recognition Report[4], we undertook a desktop review of IPSO against certain key criteria in the Royal Charter, where information is publicly available. Our conclusion remains that IPSO does not meet a range of the criteria for an Approved Regulator including the fact that it is not independent from the industry, nor can it be said to be responsible for the standards (in the form of the Editors’ Code[5]) it is required to enforce.

20.             In any event, should IPSO seek to become Leveson compliant, it would still be severely constrained in doing so. IPSO’s scheme agreement includes a clause enabling subscribing news publishers to terminate their membership at seven days’ notice[6] should IPSO ever seek recognition. So even if IPSO did consider that their scheme would operate more effectively within the recognition system, the financial risk incurred by this clause would be a significant deterrent to making an application for Approved Regulator status.

Alternatives to Section 40

21.             In our view, commencement of Section 40 remains a critical component underpinning participation in the system of independent press self-regulation. It encourages membership and removes obstacles to redress for those news publishers who do not participate while avoiding statutory regulation.

22.             An amendment to Clause 50 of the Online Safety Bill has been proposed to resolve a definitional issue as to exempt ‘recognised news publishers’ from Ofcom oversight. The proposed amendment is important in that it provides clarity that a news publisher is one that belongs to an Approved Regulator.

23.             This amendment is welcome as, if carried, it would remove the potential for confusion which could either enable malicious actors to masquerade as a news publisher to evade Ofcom regulation or, conversely, require Ofcom to make a determination as to whether a news publisher is, or is not a ‘recognised news publisher’ against a loose set of criteria, which could potentially enable statutory regulation by the backdoor for online news publishers.

24.             However, this amendment is not a substitute for Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. While it may serve to encourage online news publishers to join an existing Approved Regulator or form a new organisation which could then apply for recognition, it does not provide the protection for freedom of speech, nor provide access to justice for members of the public who have experienced press harm.

25.             This latter is particularly important as the scope of the Online Safety Bill would not capture print-only news publishers, or the print-element of those news publishers who have structured their online news publication as a separate legal entity.


26.             Arguments are made against Section 40 that it would expose news publishers to ruinous costs. This would only be the case if a news publisher had chosen not to become a member of an Approved Regulator. It also ignores the protection it affords against wealthy individuals and organisations seeking to frustrate investigative journalism by bringing a malicious claim to the Courts.

27.             The Recognition System was carefully designed to balance news publishers’ freedom of speech while protecting the public from harmful and intrusive press practices. It sets some minimum standards for independence, financial sustainability, standards setting and complaints handling. None of these cut across freedom of the press in the public interest. Importantly, it is, explicitly, not state regulation.

28.             Without a majority of news publishers participating in the regulatory scheme of an Approved Regulator, the balance between freedom of speech and public protection is skewed away from the public and towards news publishers, who write their own code of conduct and complaints processes. This would leave only the wealthy able to seek meaningful redress through the courts. Section 40 was designed to create a more equitable balance. But without it, this imbalance will continue with some arbitrary and inconsistent complaints handling processes across the industry, meaning there can be a highly variable response when concerns are raised.

29.             In our view, the case for commencing Section 40 remains strong and the proposal to repeal it would be a grave mistake. Instead, it should be commenced.



[1] Impress, 2022, Standards Code:

[2] A relevant claim in England and Wales includes civil claims for libel, slander, breach of confidence, misuse of private information, malicious falsehood, or harassment.

[3] Department of Culture, Media and Sports and the Home Office, 2018, Government response to the consultation on the Leveson Inquiry and its Implementation — Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry:

[4] Press Recognition Panel, 2023, Annual Report on the Recognition System:

[5] Editor’s Code of Practice Committee, 2021, The Editors’ Code:

[6] Paragraph 11.3.1 of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, 2019, Scheme Membership Agreement: