It’ll threaten more than 300 years of press freedom, say WAN-IFRA and World Editors Forum

The global community of news publishers and editors has reacted critically to U.K.’s proposed move to set up a press regulator through a royal charter.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which claim to represent 18,000 publications, have appealed to the British government to rethink the terms of the charter-based regulation, warning it would “threaten more than 300 years of press freedom in the UK.”

The proposed royal charter, the organisations said, would “discourage investigative journalism” and encourage “self-censorship” as publishers who did not sign up to the “approved regulator” system could be liable for punitive damages, or alarmingly high libel costs. The letter also raised concerns about proposed arbitration services. “Disputes currently settled easily without cost to either side could become major compensation claims for even the smallest of errors,” the letter noted. The proposal would also have a “chilling effect” as a precedent to curtail press freedom in other countries.

The organisations expressed disappointment that the U.K. government ignored the numerous concerns raised by press freedom and human rights groups and “replaced a self-regulatory system with one underscored by statutory regulation.” They alleged the charter needed to be seen alongside other proposed legislation, making it “statutory regulation of the press.”

Instead, the organisations backed an “effective self-regulatory system independent of both the state and the newspaper and magazine industry.” The U.K. proposal has emerged in the wake of the Leveson Committee’s findings into the ethics of the British press after the phone-hacking scandal. The Committee had recommended the setting up of a new, independent body, with a range of sanctions, to replace the existing Press Complaints Commission.