An international team of senior editors from WAN-IFRA, a global organization of the world’s newspapers and publishers has concluded its fact-finding mission on press freedom to the United Kingdom.
The ‘press freedom mission,’ which was in London till yesterday, conducted a “series of high-profile meetings with prominent individuals and leading organisations representing multiple interests,” according to a statement put out by the team.
The team had come to the UK following international media concerns over the Parliament-backed Royal Charter on Press Self-Regulation that has put statutory controls on the media in the UK, and the UK government’s response to the investigative reports carried in the columns of the Guardian based on intelligence files leaked by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, was questioned by a House of Commons Select Committee of the Home Department on his newspaper’s decision to carry these stories.
“Our visit has been unanimously welcomed as a timely and much needed initiative at a moment of great uncertainty for the future of the British press,” said WAN-IFRA CEO, Vincent Peyrègne. “Our mission confirmed differences of opinion in terms of how the introduction of legislation governing the press will impact press freedom. It highlighted serious concerns regarding the independence from political involvement in that process, and how implementation of the legislation that underpins the Royal Charter could potentially be abused to restrict a free press both here in the UK and abroad.”
Over its two day fact-finding visit to London, the mission met with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller MP; John Whittingdale MP, Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee; leading human rights lawyer Lord Lester; Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger; the Independent newspaper group; the Telegraph Group; Associated Newspapers; the Newspaper Society; the Newspaper Publishers Association; the Society of Editors; the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust; the Press Complaints Commission; Ipso; Article 19; Index On Censorship; English PEN; the Hacked Off group; and leading academics and media commentators.
The mission was particularly concerned over the UK government’s reaction to the Guardian newspapers reporting of NSA leaks from Edward Snowden. (The Guardian was accused by sections of the government and its intelligence arms of compromising national security.) The mission expressed its solidarity with the position expressed by the Guardian’s Editor before the House Committee, noting in its statement that the “chilling intimidation of the Guardian, is sending a negative message to the international community.”
Highlighting the international repercussions that such measures would send the mission said in its statement: “Foreign governments may cite the current British example when reforming their own regulatory processes, as well as the inspiration they may take in how to treat investigative journalism, [which] remain of particular concern and risks causing serious repercussions worldwide.”
A final report with the mission’s findings will be published in February.
This is the first ever mission by WAN-IFRA to the UK. Similar press freedom missions have been sent to countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Myanmar.
The WAN-IFRA delegation to the UK included Erik Bjereger - Editor-in-Chief and Managing Director, Kristeligt Dagblad, Denmark / President, World Editors Forum; Vincent Peyrègne - CEO, WAN-IFRA; Zaffar Abbas - Editor-in-Chief, Dawn, Pakistan; Roger Parkinson - Former President and Publisher of the StarTribune/Former Publisher, CEO, and Chairman of the Toronto Globe and Mail / Past President, WAN-IFRA, Italy; Randi Øgrey - CEO, Mediebedriftenes Landsforening, Norway; Kjersti Løken Stavrum - General Secretary, Norwegian Press Council; Matti Kalliokoski - Senior editorial writer, Helsingen Sanomat, Finland; Jonathan Cooper - VP, Digital First Media, USA; Ebbe Dal, Chair of the European Newspaper Publishers Association Committee of Directors.