30th October 2023
10 Years of the Royal Charter: Building A Sustainable Legacy For Press Regulation

On October 30th, 2013, a significant shift was felt across the UK media landscape. A shift towards truly independent press regulation as a new Royal Charter was signed by Queen Elizabeth II.

The Leveson Inquiry showed that once again press bodies had failed to curb criminal and unethical behaviour. Since the 1950s, seven major inquiries into press malpractice had been held, and all attempts to create a press regulator to address them had failed. The issue? Industry regulators always lacked independence.

Under the Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press, a body would be created to ensure that any new attempts at self-regulation would, this time, be genuinely independent.

The achievement to get a legal document like the Charter approved cannot be understated. They require political cross-party consensus, and a 2/3rds majority vote in Parliament. Then-Prime Minister, David Cameron, said of the Charter: “It protects the freedom of the press… it’s a good, strong self-regulatory system for victims, and I’m convinced it will work and it will endure.”

In the past, Royal Charters have been used to establish significant organisations such as the BBC, the Bank of England and many iconic universities.

In 2013, upholding the quality and independence of press regulation was important enough to warrant a Royal Charter of its own.

From it, the Press Recognition Panel was born. In 2016, Impress became the first recognised press regulator after it was approved by the Panel.

At the time, former Impress Chair Walter Merrick proclaimed: “After rigorous examination and close scrutiny of our arrangements, the PRP has confirmed our independence, sustainability and our low-cost arbitration scheme which means we can ensure access to justice for all.

“For the first time news publishers, both large and small, have the choice to join an independent press regulator which is not controlled by major publishers.”

A decade on from the sealing of the Royal Charter, the importance of the values enshrined in it are still at the heart of what Impress does on a day-to-day basis.

On the 10th anniversary, Impress Chief Executive Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana said:

Headshot of Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, Head of Regulation at Impress

“It is absolutely essential that we have a press that is free and able to carry out their jobs in the public interest and hold the powerful to account.

“But, as in any profession, mistakes will invariably be made and it is of paramount importance that there is an effective public interest body in place to ensure the right course of action is taken in that event.

“In the ten years since the Charter was created, we have demonstrated that the industry can be rigorously regulated in a way that enables them to publish with integrity; the system works – finally giving the public confidence in news.

“With more and more publishers choosing self-regulation as a way to distinguish themselves as sources of accurate news, the future is looking bright.”

Richard Ayre, the man who succeeded Merricks as Chair of the Impress board, added:

Headshot of Richard Ayre, Chair of Impress

“To command public confidence a regulator must be wholly independent of the industry it regulates. Only Impress satisfies that requirement set out in the Royal Charter.

“We write our own Standards Code. We’re not bankrolled by publishers. Politicians have no say in who we are or what we do. And we have a resolute belief that press freedom and ethical journalism serve the public well.”

At the time of being approved for Royal Charter recognition, Impress regulated 40 publications. Now, that number stands at 210, with an audience reach of more than 20 million every month.

The journey to creating a media environment that behaved ethically and worked solely in the public interest was never going to be easy. That was made obvious by plethora of deep-rooted problems unearthed by the Leveson Inquiry.

But has progress been made? Without a doubt. More and more we are seeing new publishers opting to sign up to our robust Standards Code and promise to hold themselves to the highest benchmarks in the industry.

They do this knowing that Impress will be on hand to offer ethical guidance and low-cost arbitration service that can save them from debilitating court cases. The public as well now know that, instead of being sidelined by industry heads gaming the system in their favour, they will be given a fair hearing if they feel they have been wronged.

Meanwhile, internally, we remain focused on our goals; to forge a world where trusted information can thrive, to empower a free press to hold the powerful to account in the interests of the public, and to see a diversity of voices serving every community.

Without the Royal Charter, these foundations could not have been laid. So, it is over to us to push on towards a future of public interest journalism and a free, accountable, press. Why not join us on that journey?

About Impress 

Impress is a champion for news that can be trusted. We are here to make sure news providers can publish with integrity; and the public can engage in an ever-changing media landscape with confidence. We set the highest regulatory standards for news, offer education to help people make informed choices and provide resolution when disputes arise. 

Media enquiries

Louie Chandler: louie@impressorg.com / 02033076778