Newspaper editors from Sri Lanka wrote to Cameron last week asking him to reconsider his reforms on press regulation arguing the restrictions would serve as a blueprint for those who wish to suppress a free press around the world.
“Democracy across the world shudders at what is happening in the United Kingdom and Britain unfortunately stands smaller in the world as a result of your government’s actions,” they said.
Cameron has approved the new structure for press regulation, backed by all three main U.K. political parties, after the Leveson Inquiry on media ethics recommended greater oversight of the press following the widely reported phone-hacking scandal. Among the Leveson Inquiry findings were the involvement of The News of the World‘s actions in the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s mobile phone.
However, many newspaper groups in the U.K. are resisting the new controls, warning they risk handing control of the press to politicians and ultimately signalling the end of a free press.
Parts of the industry intend to ignore the existence of the Royal Charter altogether, and plan to set up their own new system of regulation called the Independent Press Standards Organization (Ipso).
Culture Secretary Maria Miller told Independent‘s Andy McSmith that this would make the move towards state regulation to become “redundant” as newspapers would refuse to sign up to The Royal Charter in favour of the Ipso.
The Sri Lankan editors stated in their letter: “the fundamental bedrock of any democracy must be a free and independent press totally out of the reach of the politicians and apparatus of the state that it reports on.”
The editors also recommended that Cameron consider how the actions of the British government will influence other regimes.
Specifically bringing up the example of South Africa, where the African National Congress has proposed new laws to control the media, the letter said: “Any move by Britain toward legislation can only be a source of encouragement to South Africa’s would-be media regulators and of deep concern to its independent journalists.”
The letter came just before Cameron’s planned visit to Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting on Friday with the aim of highlighting concerns over human right abuses, including the alleged intimidation of journalists.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka currently ranks 162nd out of 179 on an index of national press freedom, making it the lowest-ranked parliamentary democracy. The country has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.
In reaction to the slide in press freedoms witnessed in the U.K. in the past 12 months, WAN-IFRA will lead an international delegation to London this coming January to examine concerns about the Royal Charter along with the government’s condemnation of the Guardian’s reporting on leaks by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
“It is rather difficult for the United Kingdom to lecture Sri Lanka and others about their press freedom record when its own actions result in such widespread international condemnation,” said WAN-IFRA CEO Vincent Peyrègne.
WAN-IFRA has previously conducted press freedom missions to Ethiopia, South Africa, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Mexico, Honduras and many other countries but this is the first mission to the UK.
“A press freedom mission to the United Kingdom is unprecedented, and we cannot underestimate our concern for what is happening,” said Peyrègne.