The next milestone following the Leveson Inquiry and Report has been reached this week. Press regulators can now apply to us, the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), for "recognition". After consulting widely on draft proposals over the summer, we have explained how we will go about that recognition process.
Background - Leveson and the Royal Charter
The UK press is made up of a great many national, regional and local publishers operating across print, online and in some cases both. Lots, including some of the smallest, are at the cutting edge of investigative journalism and brave reporting.
Following public outcry at the activity of some of the press, the Leveson Report made recommendations for a new system of regulation. The PRP was created by Royal Charter in November 2014.
The PRP is not a regulator. We do not in any way control the press, or make decisions about what can and cannot be published or how publishers behave. It is up to other people to set up press regulators.
The Press Recognition Panel
Our job is to assess whether regulators who seek recognition from us meet the 29 criteria set out in the Charter. The Criteria were designed to secure press freedom and protect the public interest. They specify that, amongst other things, regulators are independent of the publishers they regulate, are funded properly to do their job, allow for any publisher to join up at an affordable price, and provide the public with proper opportunities to raise concerns about the conduct of the regulator's members.
I and the rest of the PRP Board were appointed to be entirely independent, including from government, politicians and the press. The Charter gives us security of tenure and freedom from external influence which is second to none.
That means that we can reach decisions and express our views independently, honestly and courageously. We will do so fairly using the widest possible range of evidence available to us and explaining our decisions. We always act transparently, wherever possible holding our meetings in public, publishing our papers, and making our meetings formal and documented - ensuring that the public and those we serve can see how we are putting our principles into practice.
This summer we consulted widely across the UK on how to deal with applications for recognition and apply the 29 criteria.
We were pleased with the wide range of responses including from members of the public; academics; representative bodies; small and large newspapers; publishers; campaigning organisations; and regulators. Their comments helped us refine our thinking. On our web site, we have published what they told us, explained what we drew from it and explained how we will go about assessing applications.
We are now formally open to receive applications from regulators, as contemplated by the Charter.
The Charter allows for more than one regulator for publishers to join. It is entirely up to regulators whether or not to apply to us for recognition. We expect to receive at least one application. Impress has publicly announced it will seek recognition from us. IPSO, whose members include many larger publishers, has said it will not.
We will announce and publish applications we receive. Anyone who wants to provide us with information about an applicant regulator or its application will be able to do so.
We will carefully scrutinise applications and information provided by third parties. The Board will then decide whether the applicant meets the 29 criteria and we will recognise them if they do. We cannot refuse recognition on some other basis, nor can we recognise a regulator that does not meet all the criteria.
The Charter requires us to check periodically whether recognised regulators still meet the criteria. We will be consulting on that and other aspects of our work in the next few months. In 12 months' time we will report formally on where things have got to.
The Charter sits alongside provisions in the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which, from November 2015, should bring benefits to publishers that are members of a recognised regulator, while changes to the court cost rules should make it easier for members of the public to challenge the actions of publishers who choose not to be.
David Wolfe QC is the chair of the Press Recognition Panel