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World's Press Calls for Withdrawal of Proposed Royal Charter

Issues prompting the Leveson Inquiry are no cause for additional statutory regulation of the press, which would have a 'chilling effect' on press freedom worldwide.

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum have appealed to the British government to rethink statutory regulation that threatens more than 300 years of press freedom in the UK.

In a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, the global organisations, representing more than 18,000 publications, said the proposed Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press risks having a devastating effect on the independent press, not only in the United Kingdom but also worldwide. Investigative journalism will be discouraged while a culture of self-censorship will prevail.

Under the proposal, publishers who do not sign up to the "approved regulator" system could be liable for punitive damages or alarmingly high libel costs, even if they were to win a court case. The proposal also calls for an arbitration service with powers that are "more extensive than any press regulator in the western world."

"Disputes currently settled easily without cost to either side could become major compensation claims for even the smallest of errors," said WAN-IFRA and the WEF in the letter to the Prime Minister.

The proposal would also have a "chilling effect" on press freedom in other countries, as oppressive regimes will cite the British model as an example and use it as an excuse to silence independent voices or those critical of government.

In its letter to Mr. Cameron, the organisations expressed disappointment that the UK government had ignored the numerous concerns raised by press freedom and human rights groups worldwide. Those who have protested against the proposal include the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19 and the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations, which includes the major global press freedom groups.

"The proposed Royal Charter on Self Regulation of the Press in its name is misleading," said the letter, "given it does not stand alone, but instead interlocks with the Crime and Courts Bill and the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill currently before parliament, which together can not be described as anything other than statutory regulation of the press."

WAN-IFRA stands firmly behind the need for a strong and independent press in the United Kingdom, underpinned by an effective self-regulatory system independent of both the state and the newspaper and magazine industry.

www.wan-ifra.org

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