The Charity Commission has refused to register a trust created to provide financial and other assistance to a new press standards regulator, although the commission has acknowledged such an organisation could potentially be charitable.
The Independent Press Regulation Trust’s application for charitable status was rejected by the commission on 7 May. The IPRT requested a review of this decision; the decision review document, published yesterday, reaffirms the decision not to register the trust.
As the decision notes, the IPRT has its roots in the Leveson Inquiry into the press, which concluded in 2012 and set out the criteria that any new press regulator should follow. A royal charter on self-regulation of the press from March 2013 orders the creation of a recognition panel, which will certify that prospective regulators meet the Leveson criteria.
This panel has yet to be fully established.
According to the decision document, the purposes of the IPRT are to promote ethical conduct and best practice in journalism and the media. It could promote this purpose by means including financial assistance and other support for one or more new independent press regulators, which would have to be Leveson-compliant.
Last month, the Independent Press Standards Organisation was launched as a replacement for the disbanded Press Complaints Commission. However, IPSO, which is a community interest company, has not been supported by all the major national newspapers, and its chair has said that it did not expect to be certified as Leveson-compliant.
The IPRT has identified the Impress Project – a group of writers and philanthropists working to create an officially recognised press regulator – as a potential recipient of its support.
The regulator’s decision says: "The commission is not in a position to judge whether financial assistance towards the establishment of a body set up by the Impress Project is charitable unless and until such time that it is established and recognised as an independent press regulator."
The trust’s purposes are thus considered "too vague and uncertain" for the commission to allow its registration, although it does note in the decision that such an organisation "might be considered to be of a charitable nature" in the future.
A spokeswoman for the commission said: "We recognise that our decision will come as a disappointment to those who have set up the organisation and who feel that charitable status will further their laudable aims, and we wish them well in their work."
The spokeswoman said that the IPRT could appeal against the decision at the charity tribunal, but did not say whether the commission was expecting such an appeal. Requesting a decision review, though not required before going to the tribunal, can be a precursor to an appeal.
Tom Murdoch, a senior associate at the law firm Stone King, said it was helpful that the commission recognised the charitable potential of the IPRT. Murdoch, who is also on the nine-person appointments panel for the Impress Project, said: "The commission considers there is a lack of certainty around the purposes because press regulators are not yet being registered – but the basis for registration of press regulators is clear and certain: it is set out in the royal charter. I think there’s a growing sense that upholding standards in the press is or should be a charitable purpose."
It is not clear who is behind the IPRT – there is no trace of the organisation on the internet other than references to this decision.