Media freedom groups urge Queen not to sign Royal Charter
Say measure could chill free expression in Britain, serve as poor example to Commonwealth
VIENNA, Oct 24, 2013 – The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined with six other global media freedom groups in calling on Queen Elizabeth II not to sign a proposed Royal Charter that could re-impose statutory regulation of the press in the United Kingdom.
The full text of the letter appears below.
COMMONWEALTH PRESS UNION MEDIA TRUST, London, UK
FIPP – THE WORLDWIDE MAGAZINE MEDIA ASSOCIATION, London, UK
INTER AMERICAN PRESS ASSOCIATION, Miami, USA
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTING, Montevideo, Uruguay
INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE, Vienna, Austria
WORLD ASSOCIATION OF NEWSPAPERS & NEWS PUBLISHERS, WAN-IFRA, Paris, France; Darmstadt, Germany
WORLD PRESS FREEDOM COMMITTEE, Paris, France; Washington DC, USA
For more than three centuries since Britain abolished the last set of statutory controls on the press in 1695, the United Kingdom has been a consistent champion of the most crucial freedom of all - freedom of expression – and a beacon of liberty across the world.
Freedom of expression was central to the European Convention of Human Rights which Britain helped draft. It is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the UK is a signatory. It is a core belief in the Commonwealth Charter which Britain inspired. Free speech and freedom of expression have throughout the 20th and 21st centuries therefore been at the core of Britain’s international commitments, of its leadership of the free world, and of its international reputation as a liberal democracy.
Yet all that is now in danger. No one should be in any doubt that the proposed Royal Charter which politicians are forcing Your Majesty to sign is, despite the camouflage, in reality a set of repressive statutory controls being imposed on the press against its will. That should not be the function of a Royal Charter.
Some will argue that it is just intended to establish a body to oversee an independent regulator. But by laying down rules about how that regulator must work and how the ethical Codes that bind the press should be written this toxic Charter brings Parliament for the first time ever to the heart of the newsroom. It breaches the fundamental principle that politicians must never get involved in editorial content regulation. And it lays the foundation for fully fledged statutory controls.
That will have a chilling impact on journalism throughout the United Kingdom – from the biggest national newspapers to the smallest local and regional papers and magazines in the four nations of your country – weakening democracy as a result.
But far more important to us is the impact of your actions across the globe. The world still follows Britain in so many areas. If the UK moves to control the press through the force of law then it will have a terrifying knock-on effect throughout the Commonwealth and much of the developing world where Britain has a key leadership role. The fact that this is being done by Royal Charter – an instrument traditionally used to grant rights, not to curtail them – will make that infinitely worse because of the respect in which You personally, and the Crown institutionally, are held throughout the world.
The actions of Britain’s Parliament will be used as an excuse by those who want to muzzle the press in their own country and stifle the free flow of information – and there are many governments who would love to do so. And it is your name, Your Majesty, that will regrettably be taken in vain. “If it is good enough for the Queen, it is good enough for us.”
Already we have seen the chill winds of what is happening in the UK in South Africa, Botswana and Sri Lanka. Many more will follow.
This issue is of huge importance for freedom of expression in the UK. It is important for Britain’s standing in the world. But above all it is important for the impact on countries not nearly so lucky as the many of us in Europe who until now have enjoyed fundamental freedoms.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next month in Sri Lanka, the British Government – with The Prince of Wales as your representative – should be campaigning for the protection and expansion of free expression throughout the Commonwealth, not least in countries like Rwanda, Singapore and Sri Lanka itself, which persistently lag at the bottom of world press freedom indices alongside Syria and North Korea. Further, the British Government, which decriminalised defamation in 2009, should also take strong steps encouraging Commonwealth countries to repeal criminal defamation laws. But Britain will be in no position to do that if you have signed a Royal Charter which will be seized on by enemies of free speech everywhere eager to impose similar controls. Britain will have abrogated its rights and the world will be worse off for that.
We urge you, Ma’am, as the final guarantor of freedom of expression across the UK and your Commonwealth, not to sign this Charter.
Signed by the following members of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organisations:
COMMONWEALTH PRESS UNION MEDIA TRUST, London, UK;
FIPP – THE WORLDWIDE MAGAZINE MEDIA ASSOCIATION, London, UK;
INTER AMERICAN PRESS ASSOCIATION, Miami, USA;
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BROADCASTING, Montevideo, Uruguay;
INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE, Vienna, Austria;
WORLD ASSOCIATION OF NEWSPAPERS & NEWS PUBLISHERS,WAN-IFRA, Paris, France, Darmstadt, Germany;
WORLD PRESS FREEDOM COMMITTEE, Paris, France, Washington DC, USA.