UK plan for statute-backed press regulator draws condemnation from around the world

Plans for a state-backed press regulator have been condemned internationally by groups dedicated to freedom of speech. 

Campaigners fear that authoritarian regimes will use the British model as a precedent to clamp down on their own media.

Phenyo Butale, of the South African Freedom of Expression Institute, claimed: “African governments have shown they are uncomfortable with free press acting as a watchdog, holding them to account. A move to statutory regulation in the UK would really be a gift for them.”

The Privy Council will present the controversial plans to the Queen at their next meeting on 8 May. If signed, a state-recognised regulator could be operational within 12 months.

So far, only The Independent has announced that it will accept the deal that was agreed in Labour leader Ed Miliband’s office between the three main political parties on Sunday night/Monday morning this week.

The Sun this morning continued its strong line against regulation by claiming their budget coverage has been “approved by the Ministry of Truth”.

The New York Times addressed the issue in a strongly-worded editorial condemning the plan.

The paper’s editorial board said the Royal Charter would “chill free speech and threaten the survival of small publishers and Internet sites".

“But such misdeeds are far better handled as violations of existing British criminal and civil laws, which already provide ways to prosecute and sue reporters for defamation or hacking.

“The kind of press regulations proposed by British politicians would do more harm than good because an unfettered press is essential to democracy.”

It concluded: “It would be perverse if regulations enacted in response to this scandal ended up stifling the kind of hard hitting investigative journalism that brought it to light in the first place.”

In Somalia, Mohammed Ibrahim of the Somali Union of Journalists told The Times: “It is alarming that the British Government is regulating the freedom of its press.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 49 reporters have been killed in the country since 1992."

Broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby and chairman of the Index of Censorship warned of potential future political interference: “The two-thirds block on any changes to the royal charter could be abused in the future – not least when today’s emerging consensus shows that the parties can come together in both houses to agree on press regulation.”

This morning the New Statesman joined the growing opposition to the proposed Royal Charter claiming it is “regulation designed to suit politicians.”

The Spectator has already said it will not sign up the new Royal Charter-backed press regulator.

The NS said in an editorial: "The New Statesman, which has an ever-growing website and digital presence, currently does not see its interests served by regulation designed to suit politicians, nor by a revanche regime cooked up for the comfort of newspaper barons. Until a better plan is put forward we reserve our right to continue publishing 'news-related material' in print and online without deference to either of those parties."

According to The Times, parenting website Mumsnet has asked the Government for an exclusion from the new press regulation regime.

But the exemplary damages amendment passed on Monday suggests that sites such as Mumsnet almost certainly would be at risk of paying exemplary damages in libel trials if they refuse to join the new regulator.

The bill defines publishers as those who produce "news-related material, produced by multiple authors and under editorial control".

Advert published by the Free Speech Network, a campaign group formed by the major UK news publishers:

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