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Hacked off: Newspapers launch legal challenge against Mosley press regulator

Newspapers have threatened to launch a legal challenge against a decision to recognise the first press regulator under the terms of the controversial Royal Charter established following the Leveson Inquiry.

In October a press regulator funded by Max Mosley gained recognition as a state-backed watchdog, even though no national newspapers are among its members.

Dubbed Impress, its ability to operate effectively has come under scrutiny, with the latest being threats to launch a legal action by News Media Association, which has turned to RPC partners Geraldine Elliott and Keith Mathieson.

Elliott wrote to the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) on Monday (31 October) that the Impress scheme of regulation ‘falls short of the recognition criteria in a number of material respects which are not capable of cure…and that there are grounds for judicial review of the decision.’

Writing the letter directly to PRP chair David Wolfe QC, also at Matrix Chambers, Elliott noted the decision was made at a meeting of the body’s board on 25 October, and argued that ‘members, led by you, simply ran through each of the 23 recognition criteria set out in the Royal Charter and formed the view in each case that Impress had been able to meet the criterion threshold.’

‘Other than that, we have no information about the grounds on which the decision was made and what reasoning was applied by the PRP. In particular, without limitation, we do not know on what bases the board determined that each of the criteria was met.’

Subsequently Elliot wrote that her client, the NMA, required ‘urgent sight’ of the material as ‘there is a serious risk of prejudice.’

Elliott requested that the documentation and information be provided by 4 November at the latest, and expects to write to the body with a ‘formal pre-action protocol letter thereafter.’

It is the latest hurdle to the tortuous attempt to bridge the divide between the press and the government’s plans for a regulator. The agreement has generated much controversy, not just the expected outrage among the press – who were quick to claim that it represented a return to state licensing of newspapers – but also among some hardened media lawyers.

The NMA represents national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK.

For more on the Leveson Inquiry see ‘Shock and Flaw – is Leveson workable?’