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IMPRESS-initiated investigations: Explained

IMPRESS-initiated investigations are a regulatory oversight mechanism used to ensure regulated publishers are adhering to the IMPRESS Standards Code and are publishing ethically. The decision to utilise investigatory powers demonstrates our commitment to proactively upholding journalism standards, using the full scope of our regulatory remit.

IMPRESS typically undertakes investigations as part of our escalated complaints handling process, when a member of the public, unsatisfied by a publisher’s response to their complaint, escalates that complaint to IMPRESS. IMPRESS then evaluates, based on thorough communication with both sides, whether or not the complaint merits a full investigation into a potential breach of IMPRESS’ Standards Code relating to published content, news gathering activities, or the internal governance requirements that regulated publishers agree to uphold.

Complaints, however, are not the only way that potential Code breaches may be investigated by IMPRESS.

IMPRESS has powers to investigate potential breaches of the Code on our own initiative. Investigations are a key part of the Regulatory Scheme that publishers agree to when signing up for approved regulation and are intended to protect the public and the integrity of journalism in accordance with the IMPRESS Standards Code. The ability to initiate an investigation in the absence of conventional complaints allows IMPRESS to proactively address concerns about journalism standards trends that may present themselves across multiple articles or repeated news gathering practices.

How IMPRESS initiated investigations are instigated

An investigation may be initiated by IMPRESS when the possibility of a code breach is apparent but not yet subject to a specific complaint. For example, a publisher may be attracting numerous allegations of regular inaccuracies or misconduct, from official and/or credible sources. This could also be in the public domain, on social media, or through anonymous channels. When IMPRESS becomes aware of any such concerns being raised, these are documented by our regulatory team who then undertake an assessment as to their credibility and severity, before deciding if an investigation on IMPRESS’ own initiative is warranted.

Investigations are intended to address potential breaches of the IMPRESS Standards Code and apply only to members of the IMPRESS regulatory scheme who uphold the code. Investigations cannot be used to address the practices of publishers not regulated by IMPRESS.

How the evidence gathering and decision-making processes work

Prior to formally launching an investigation IMPRESS will first assess whether there is a case to answer. To do so, our regulatory team will gather further evidence, contact affected parties, or seek expert advice.

Once all evidence is gathered, a regulatory committee then decides whether further investigation is required. If the committee decides the matter does not engage the Code, it will be closed. If the committee decides the matter is not serious, and or does not demonstrate systemic conduct warranting further investigation, it will also be closed.

If, however, the committee decides there is a case to answer, a formal investigation is launched.

As part of the investigation process, IMPRESS will communicate with the publisher in question explaining the case, before providing the publisher with an opportunity to respond to the outlined concerns. IMPRESS will then consider any comments that the publisher may wish to make in its defence, while gathering further evidence as to any potential code breaches.

For example, if a publisher were to be placed under investigation for potential discrimination, IMPRESS may consult with organisations that represent the group/s potentially being discriminated against for expert insight and advice. In turn, these organisations may offer additional evidence relevant to IMPRESS’ investigation. At the same time, publishers may offer amendments or retractions prior to any decisions being made, and such cooperative actions are considered by the Committee when a decision is eventually made.

At the end of this information gathering process, the Regulatory Committee, as appointed by the IMPRESS Board, will meet to consider all evidence. The committee will then issue a decision regarding the case, including details of any actions of redress for the publisher.

Potential consequences for the publisher

Once a final decision has been made, the publisher will be given time to prepare a response before the decision is made public. If a breach is found, a publisher may be directed to act. Such actions can include corrections, retractions, apologies, amendments, and in some cases, paying a fine. All investigation decisions are published on the IMPRESS website.

You can read more about the initiated investigation procedure, sanctions and remedies in sections 5 and 6 of the IMPRESS Regulatory Scheme.