From The Times, April 12, 2013
The stark warning from the Commonwealth Journalists’ Association(CJA) comes amid growing concerns from rights campaigners that Britain is squandering its position as a bastion of free speech by introducing statutory regulation of the press for the first time in more than 300 years.
“It is a basic principle of democracy that politicians should not impose standards of ethics and behaviour on journalists,” the CJA said in a statement. “Britain must not set an example which encourages authoritarian regimes elsewhere to further shackle their free and independent media.”
Their representatives in Cameroon, Canada, Uganda and India said the proposals, backed by David Cameron, were flawed and dangerous.
“This move to stifle the press in a great nation like Britain is not only disgraceful but runs riot with modern democratic principles and values as enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter of which Britain is a bona fide founding member,” the organisation representatives in Cameroon said.
In India, CJA officials warned that nuances in the British legislation “will probably disappear in copycat rules,” where they could easily morph into, “straightforward, old-style press censorship.”
Instead, the CJA urged the British Government to reform the system of self-regulation which has worked in other countries.
“We believe the phone-hacking scandal and other press behaviour which led to heightened public concern could have been dealt with under the criminal law,” the CJA said. “Failings were exposed on the part of politicians and the police as well as the press, and to seek a remedy in the manner now being proposed is a one-sided and distorted response.”
They echoed warnings from Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, who said political controls on the media “always lead to misuse of power”.
The New York Based Committee to Protect Journalists voiced similar concerns last week. They said the proposed legislation would undermine Britain’s ability to lecture oppressive regimes on the merits of free speech.
The CPJ reminded Mr Cameron that he had recently intervened to help an imprisoned Somali journalist, who was released after the Prime Minister raised the case with the Somali President.
“The moral authority of a British Prime Minister to mount such a defence stems in part from Britain’s history of nearly 300 years without government regulation of the press,” the CPJ said.
“The deal your government has struck with the opposition, in the wake of the Leveson report, to introduce a Royal Charter establishing the details of press regulation could erode that authority.”
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