22nd January 2024
Freedom of the Press: How Self-Regulation Benefits the Press and the Public

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. That is a snippet from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

A free press is crucial to communities, society and democracy.

Today’s world faces big global advances in technology, society, and the environment. The way that people act in the world relies on the information they use every day. Reliable information, such as public interest news free from state and private interests, is crucial to tackling and solving these challenges. We need a healthy, free press more than ever to support the public interest, hold power to account, and provide reliable news to the communities it serves.

But why is effective self-regulation crucial to press freedom?

Independence and Fairness

The main reason is to protect the independence of news journalism. A key part of Article 19 refers to holding opinions “without interference”; this means powerful interests, such as the state, shouldn’t be able to censor or silence the press in their own interests.

Impress is the UK’s first, and only, truly independent press regulator. This status is verified by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), a Royal Charter-body that requires regulators to prove that they are independent of private and political interests. Charitable funding of Impress is managed externally by the Independent Press Regulation Trust (IPRT); this means that it is not possible for anyone to use money to undermine Impress’ independence.

As the state, private companies, and powerful individuals cannot interfere with Impress’ independence, it means we can uphold journalism ethics for the publishers that choose to adopt them.

With that freedom, comes responsibility. The public need rigorous journalism that tells accurate, meaningful stories without fear of harassment or misinformation. When some in the press abuse their position, they undermine the integrity of their whole profession, and press freedom in the process.

The most high-profile instance of this in the UK was the phone hacking scandal in 2011. Some national newspapers were found to be harassing the families of innocent victims without any regard for them and the traumatic situations they were facing. As well as adding to their grief, cases like this create big problems for a free press.

The phone hacking scandal hugely undermined public trust in news across the board. Tarred with the same brush, this loss in trust undermines all those news publishers carrying out important, public interest journalism. It also undermines press freedom: illegal and unethical conduct calls into question the justifications for having said freedom if it cannot be exercised responsibly.

Freedom, like public trust, shouldn’t be taken for granted. News publishers across the UK have therefore begun to allow the public to hold them to account, under an independently recognised and verified system of self-regulation. These publishers can openly prove that their journalism meets ethical industry standards and serves the public interest. If there are cases where it does not, then they agree to a solution that is independently decided by Impress and fair to both the public and the publisher.

Independent self-regulation helps news publishers prove that their crucial work is effectively serving the public interest, improving public trust, and justifying the press freedom’s they enjoy. News publishers, independently regulated, can carry out their work without interference and with confidence, knowing they are contributing to freedom for all in our communities and society, and to democracy.

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