Boss of Mosley’s press watchdog Impress backs CEO in row over bias

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Sep 29, 2017
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Walter Merricks said an internal review had found that no Impress decision had been affected by bias

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The lawyer-chairman of Impress, the press regulator, backed members of the body's top team after an internal investigation found that they had abused newspapers on social media.

Walter Merricks, a qualified solicitor and former financial services ombudsman, said that the position of Jonathan Heawood, the Impress chief executive, was not under threat.

The Times revealed yesterday that Heawood and two board members, Emma Jones and Maire Messenger Davies, had breached internal standards by retweeting posts that described several mainstream UK newspapers as fascist and racist.

Impress, which is funded by Max Mosley, the former head of Formula One racing, is the only press regulator backed by royal charter. The findings raised the prospect that the Press Recognition Panel (PRP) could strip it of its backing because the retweets suggested that individuals at the regulator were not impartial.

“As soon as these allegations were brought to our attention we decided they should be fully and robustly investigated and we co-operated with the PRP in their enquiries,” Merricks told The Brief yesterday.

Merricks, who is also a former senior official at the Law Society of England and Wales, said that for Impress to lose its recognition “the PRP would need to instigate an ad hoc review and the criteria for doing so are that it thinks there are exceptional circumstances and a significant public interest in doing so”.

The chairman claimed that was unlikely, not least because Impress’s status is to be reviewed in a year’s time.

Merricks added that the internal Impress report “addressed fully and robustly all the allegations made. It found that no Impress decision had been affected by bias or any real possibility of it.”

Impress has been criticised for not attracting any significant publications to its regulatory regime. Most newspapers, including The Times, participate in a scheme that is run by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

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