1st May 2024
Impress CEO Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana: “If We Want True Press Freedom, We Need To Talk About Regulation”

By Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana
Chief Executive, Impress

The threats to press freedom are ever-present and growing. Some of these are external and autocratic: cyber, legal, and physical threats, as well as the horrific imprisonment and murder of journalists.

This is about making practising journalism non-viable, and they are tactics yielded by those who want to delegitimise the function of journalism to inform, educate and hold power to account.

Some threats, however, are for the news industry to resolve, such as market concentration, collapse of the revenue model, and lack of product innovation. For the sake of press freedom, it is interminably frustrating when the press commits own goals.

“The threats to press freedom are ever-present and growing.”

Every time a journalist crosses the line, getting the facts wrong in a way that harms someone’s reputation, publishes private information that isn’t in the public interest, or muddies the independence of a story by failing to declare that they have some commercial interest, it fuels the autocrats to continue their rampage.

Many journalists and editors do not set out to fall below accepted journalism standards. But all journalists are tarred when things go wrong. We need to be able to distinguish those trying to do the right thing from those disregarding the rules, interpreting press freedom as ‘publishing whatever I feel like no matter what harm it does’.

This is where press regulators, councils, and ombudsmen come in. We are journalists, academics, civil society advocates, and human rights lawyers; it’s not flashy, the work is undervalued and underfunded, but we do it because we believe journalism is at its best when it can be held up as accurate, transparent, and responsible.

“Many journalists and editors do not set out to fall below accepted journalism standards. But all journalists are tarred when things go wrong.”

When the press is struggling, marred by misconduct, we don the hats of educators and advocates – making the case for ethical practitioners to the public, and when the press is thriving and accountable, we are administrators, seeing to it that things tick along.

There are those in the industry that equate what we do as ‘control’, see no value in being ethical and instead live by the mantra of ‘if they don’t sue its true’.

These same paper men then cry foul when the rich and powerful do just that. It’s the sort of whiplash only particularly well-resourced news organisations can recover from, and it is by their hand that press freedom is stifled, because it’s their ideology that has incentivised the gaming of the justice system and weaponising of its costs, so ordinary folks (including smaller newsrooms and lone journalists) can’t access or see any sort of justice.

“Regulation enables press freedom by rebalancing power, tilting it away from those who would wield it in their own interests.”

Thankfully, these ideologues are in the minority; the public knows better and tells us time and again that the news they value, instead, is news that is both challenging AND ethical and accountable.

They know as well as we do, that there is a great levelling in regulation. If you’re an oligarch, politician, or a suite of corporate lawyers, you can’t persuade or buy favour. You have to endure the same set of rules and processes as any ordinary member of the public.

It enables press freedom by rebalancing power, tilting it away from those who would wield it in their own interests.

This is why it is so important that the press industry here in the UK, vests authority in a body that is independent and acts in the public interest, that staves off capture by political and commercial interests.

Hundreds of publications up and down the country have done just that, under the Impress banner. Press freedom is at the heart of what we do, so, we will continue to administer this function, distinguishing ethical journalism from its challengers, so that we can all enjoy the benefits of a thriving and accountable press.

About Lexie

Lexie has been CEO of Impress since April 2023, having previously occupied the role of Head of Regulation from 2019. Lexie has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the regulatory industry. is a New Zealand-qualified barrister and solicitor who has worked in all forms of media regulation. She has previously worked at the Advertising Standards Authority in the investigations team and at the New Zealand Office of Film and Literature Classification, an independent state media regulator, in a research and semi-judicial capacity.

Media enquiries

Louie Chandler: louie@impressreg.org.uk / 02033076778

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.