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IMPRESS: ‘a tremendous safeguard for investigative journalism’ – Sir Harry Evans

Former Sunday Times and Times editor Sir Harry Evans today called on the Guardian and the Financial Times to join the independent press regulator IMPRESS, which he described as “a tremendous impetus and safeguard for investigative journalism.”

Sir Harry voiced his fears for the future of investigative journalism and said that newspapers “standing on the fringes” and not joining a regulator should join IMPRESS because it offered the best protection for serious news reporting and investigations into corruption and the abuse of power. He went on to say: “IMPRESS is a tremendous impetus and safeguard for investigative journalism, as well as being the protection for those people who suffer the consequences of something purporting to be investigative journalism which was really persecution of personal grief.”

Sir Harry also criticised newspaper publishers who have rejected the system of low-cost arbitration offered by IMPRESS. He said someone who would not accept arbitration in a dispute “doesn’t strike me as someone dedicated to the truth.”

Sir Harry, who is a patron of IMPRESS, made his comments at a reception to open the new Sir Harry Evans Room, at the IMPRESS offices in Blackfriars, London.

Campaigners also attended the reception from the Thalidomide Society and the Thalidomide Trust, who paid tribute to Sir Harry for his historic investigation into the pharmaceutical industry and thalidomide.

In an interview with Martin Hickman, former Independent reporter and now a Board member of IMPRESS, Sir Harry said:

“Somebody taking up investigative journalism can look to IMPRESS as a resource for dealing with vexatious defamation actions that are trying to get them silenced, which happens because of the system of awarding costs.  The mass of publications, including those who are standing on the fringes, like the Financial Times and The Guardian, ought to be members of IMPRESS.

“All investigative journalism is risky because it invites retaliation and suppression. For defence, you have to go to the law, which is costly, especially when you’re fighting a major corporation.  Arbitration is actually the solution to many of the problems. If you have a system of arbitration, which is what IMPRESS introduces, you get a much clearer, more honest way of resolving the differences.

“It gets turned back on us by those saying ‘why should anybody who wins in court have to pay the costs of the other side?’ Well, it’s because they refused arbitration earlier. It’s a spurious objection really: somebody who doesn’t want to hear the evidence against them doesn’t strike me as a person dedicated to the truth.

Sir Harry added that, “The press in the UK remains marvellously feisty, lively, brilliantly designed, and intriguing, going from the saintly to the sinners.”