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World editors hit out at UK over press freedom

An international organisation dedicated to press freedom has taken the UK government to task over its plans for press regulation.

The government with the backing of the main opposition parties wants to set up a state-sponsored regulator backed by Royal Charter to oversee the industry.

However the World Association of Newspapers and News Publisher (WAN-IFRA) today issued a highly critical report on the issue.

It follows a fact-finding mission carried out by a delegation of international editors in January.

Significantly, the report says that any new system of regulation needs to have the backing of the industry.

Most national and regional publishers have rejected the government’s proposed charter in favour of the alternative proposal for an Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso).

“The exclusion of the industry in the final drafting process of the royal charter was a major error,” the report says.

“The royal charter system – used as an example or transposed elsewhere to countries lacking the United Kingdom’s historic commitment to human rights – risks an open invitation for abuse in other parts of the world.”

The report also details what it sees as UK government interference in the editorial independence of the Guardian newspaper, calling for stronger support for public interest journalism.

It says that “intense pressure” was applied to the paper by UK authorities following publication of digital surveillance stories based on leaked information from NSA whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.

Vincent Peyregne, chief executive of WAN-IFRA said:  “The lack of any real guarantees enshrining press freedom continues to expose journalism in the United Kingdom to great uncertainty, as there is nothing benign in a system that invites even the possibility of tighter restrictions on freedom of expression,” said

“If the UK government feels it is acceptable, in the name of national security, to dictate what is in the public interest, and given the UK’s continued influence over developing nations where media are essential for the spread of democratic values, the future of a free, independent press that can hold power to account is under threat worldwide.”

However the lobby group Hacked Off which represents victims of press intrusion expressed disappointment at the erport.

Director Professor Brian Cathcart said:  “We are disappointed but not surprised that this group has failed to see past the cynical scaremongering by the big British newspapers about the Royal Charter.

“We are disappointed because Hacked Off gave them the opportunity to hear from victims of press abuse about the need for change in Britain and the very modest nature of the changes that have been adopted – but they have ignored this entirely in their report.

“We are not surprised because this is, after all, a trade body of which the big British newspaper groups are leading members2 and because WAN-IFRA showed that its mind was made up even before the mission arrived.”