Press release

UK: Legislation to provide a statutory basis for self-regulation does not mean state control

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ARTICLE 19

29 Nov 2012

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ARTICLE 19 welcomes Lord Justice Leveson’s recognition that effective self-regulation is the best way to ensure a truly independent and diverse press. Statutory underpinning of self-regulation, proposed by his report, does not contradict international standards on press freedom.

The Press Complaints Commission has been woefully inadequate and failed to ensure the accountability and responsibility of the press. A meaningful form of self-regulation is needed.

However, ARTICLE 19 warns the UK government that any law requiring self-regulation must absolutely protect the independence of the press and must not be abused to undermine freedom and diversity.

The model proposed by Lord Justice Leveson is new and untested. It may offer a new vision for press accountability in the twenty first century. It must be further analysed and discussed. Politicians in the UK will have to pay serious attention to these recommendations without dismissing them out of hand. Politicians owe a responsibility to protect freedom of expression but must also ensure that the rights of individuals are protected.

“The fact that self-regulation did not work does not mean that it can not work. The PCC clearly failed to do its job properly but a system of meaningful self-regulation that ensures accountability and protects the rights of individuals is not a lost cause” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

“Although the international law does not prohibit statutory regulation of the press, experience around the world shows that such laws are frequently and easily abused to selectively control what newspapers and other periodicals may say. Self-regulation should always be the preferred option but it must be meaningful. Public trust in the press will only be won through responsibility and accountability.”

“For more than three hundred years there has been a free press in the UK. The international consequences of Britain legislating in any way to restrict the press must not be underestimated. Around the world, journalists and editors struggle to find an independent voice, free from state controls. Statutory underpinning of press regulation in the UK must show a clear commitment to the fundamental principles of true independence and freedom. Repressive governments around the world must not be able to use any legislation in the UK as a justification to further censor their people, stifle open debate and attack democracy.”

“The free press has long been considered the fourth estate, providing an informal but crucial check to hold those in power to account. It must remain so” Callamard added.