IMPRESS Founder Member Quits Regulator

A founder member of IMPRESS has withdrawn from membership of the state-backed regulator citing a range of concerns including its lack of transparency, its inability to deal with major news publishers, and its source of funding.

Press Gazette reported yesterday that Richard Gurner, Caerphilly Observer editor, issued a resignation notice to Impress on 6 October but he said he was told he could not simply walk away from the agreement with IMPRESS. His membership was then terminated after he removed all IMPRESS logos and details from the publication.

The development comes shortly after the News Media Association wrote to the Cabinet Office to draw their attention to lobbying activities of the Press Recognition Panel and inviting officials to consider whether there had been any breach of principles that govern attempts to influence Parliament by public bodies.  

Announcing his departure from IMPRESS, Mr Gurner told Press Gazette he had been unhappy with IMPRESS’ failure to publicly announce an internal review addressing concerns about its impartiality as a regulator. He said: “We weren’t told about the investigation, for a start, and we weren’t told about the outcome of the investigation – I had to read about it on Press Gazette.”

The review had been prompted after the News Media Association and others highlighted tweets shared by IMPRESS board members and staff attacking major newspapers and senior journalists. As a result, the IMPRESS chief executive was found to have brought the organisation into disrepute and IMPRESS banned three of its own board members and its chief executive from dealing with major publishers.

Last week, IMPRESS announced that two of its board members had been recused from an investigation into an article by the Canary about the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg after they shared social media posts accusing her of being a propagandist for the Conservative Party.

The internal review was published in September in a bullet point at the foot of a press release about more publishers joining its ranks, which Gurner said was “burying” it. He said: “I thought for an organisation that’s supposed to be supporting transparency and openness it hasn’t really been that open with us.”

Press Gazette reported that Gurner said it was the second time he had felt unhappy with IMPRESS, the first being its failure to disclose to members the full extent of its funding from press reform campaigner Max Mosley.

“I just thought I don’t want there to be a third time,” said Gurner, who claimed a “breach in the agreement” with IMPRESS, specifically section 3.2, which states: “We [Impress] will act fairly and proportionately and in a transparent manner in all our dealings with you.”

“As far as I’m concerned I resigned from them because I wasn’t happy with what I viewed as a lack of transparency,” said Gurner. “If you have got the head of an organisation not allowed to investigate certain sections of the press, that undermines Impress’s credibility as a regulator… I thought it best if I leave.”

The Observer is now abiding by the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Gurner told Press Gazette: “I understand the pressure IMPRESS is coming under from the NMA, but things like this, it’s damaged their credibility and for an organisation that’s supposed to be promoting transparency they didn’t seem very transparent to me.”