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Between 1990 and 2014, the principal regulator of the UK press had been the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

In the wake of the News International phone hacking scandal, government set up the Leveson Inquiry (2011–2012). This was a judicial public inquiry chaired by Lord Justice Leveson looking into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press.

One key finding of the inquiry was that despite abundant evidence of press wrong-doing, the PCC had failed to act effectively to prevent it.

Leveson recommends

Leveson therefore recommended setting up a Press Recognition Panel (PRP), which would, in turn, endorse an official press regulator (or regulators). This new regulator would be based in a statutory legal framework giving it meaningful powers of enforcement, as well as the ability to levy significant fines on newspapers that breached its code of conduct.

The PRP was then created on 3 November 2014 by the Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press.

This, in turn, led to the establishment, in October 2016, of the UK’s first officially recognised press regulator: IMPRESS

Conservative sabotage

The new system of press regulation was claimed to achieve a delicate balance between protecting the public and enabling the continued freedom of the press. However, despite this receiving all-party support, successive Conservative governments subjected Leveson to a process of “death by a thousand cuts”.

First, David Cameron refused to pass the necessary legislation to make IMPRESS the official regulator, or give it teeth. Then, a second stage of the Leveson Inquiry, intended to look into unlawful conduct by mainstream media (including News International) was delayed. Finally, in 2018, it was announced that there would be no Leveson II.

Meanwhile, under no obligation to sign up to IMPRESS, major news publishers in the UK went ahead and, in September 2014, replaced the PCC with the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

Where are we now?

As of summer 2022, IMPRESS was regulating a total of 114 publishers, publishing some 208 publications across the UK. 

IPSO, at this time, claimed that it was regulating the majority of the UK’s newspapers and magazines, including “more than 1,500 print titles and more than 1,000 online titles” as well as most of the UK’s major national newspapers.

A number of publications – most notably the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Independent – have declined to sign up to either organisation. They have, instead, set up their own formal complaints process.

As a result, IPSO is now the main regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry in the UK.