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UK: Proposals to regulate the press fall short of international free speech standards

Proposals to reform press regulation in UK following the Leveson Inquiry fall short of international standards to protect freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 notes that there has been a worrying lack of transparency in the process and expresses a series of concerns about the text of the Draft Royal Charter on Self-Regulation and amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill (Amendments), including the use of the phrase ‘self-regulation’, the financial sanctions proposed and the position of bloggers under the provisions.
“There are fundamental problems about the lack of transparency in the process leading to this solution. Discussions among politicians have taken place behind closed doors. Any decision about how the press should be regulated demands public participation and the active involvement of media workers and the industry. Sadly, there has also been a lack of transparency about the reform process undertaken by the Press Complaints Commission. This makes it almost impossible to assess whether and why that process has failed” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.
Self-regulation is the best approach to media regulation because it is the least restrictive mechanism available. Statutory regulation of the print press may be compatible with international freedom of expression standards if it provides strong guarantees for media freedom and the independence of regulatory bodies.
ARTICLE 19, however, finds that the regulatory system established by the Draft Royal Charter and the Amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill do not meet such guarantees, and must be revised accordingly. “What is being proposed is a system of co-regulation of the press, which can be permitted under international standards. But on close scrutiny – what is being proposed here needs serious revision” added Callamard.
ARTICLE 19 urges the government to remove the phrase ‘self-regulation’ from the title of the Royal Charter.
ARTICLE 19 also notes that:
  • The Royal Charter should stipulate that the mandate of the press regulator extends to advocating for freedom of expression.
  • The Royal Charter should clearly explain that a regulator must act to balance the rights of the individual with the right to free expression. Any decision about complaints addressed against the press must comply with international standards that protect the right to freedom of expression as well as the rights of others.
  • The Royal Charter should include provisions stating that the autonomy of the Recognition Panel is fully guaranteed in all matters and that any economic or political interference is prohibited.
  • Financial sanctions should only be used in the most serious breaches of agreed codes of industry standards. These fines must be proportionate, and weighed against their potential effect on the right to freedom of expression. Fines should be imposed that will close down a publication.
  • The Crime and Court Bill should state that exemplary damages are only to be used in highly exceptional cases, and require the claimant to prove that the defendant acted deliberately and with the specific intention of causing harm to the claimant.
  • Bloggers should not be forced to abide by codes of practices developed by traditional media, either directly or through incentive schemes.
To read the legal analysis in full please click here

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