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World press group lobbies Queen
A group of the world's leading press freedom organisations have written to the Queen urging her not to sign a Royal Charter to govern regulation of the press in Britain.
The letter warned that the "toxic" charter, backed by all three major political parties, would have a "chilling" effect on journalism in the UK and be used as an excuse by dictators around the world for muzzling the press in their own nations.
Britain will not be able to exercise a leadership role in arguing for human rights at next month's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka if the charter is approved by the Privy Council and signed by Her Majesty at a meeting on October 30, they warned.
The letter - signed by organisations including the World Press Freedom Committee, the International Press Institute and the Inter American Press Association - came as a poll suggested that almost seven in 10 (68%) of the public believed politicians would exploit the proposed press regulation framework to dampen criticisms of them and restrict freedom of speech.
Only 13% of those questioned by pollsters Survation for the Free Speech Network agreed that the Royal Charter would result in a "more vibrant and independent press", while 62% said the new system should not give politicians the final say on regulation.
The proposed charter would create a recognition panel to oversee a new independent press self-regulation system.
Any newspapers which failed to sign up to regulators endorsed by the panel would leave themselves open to exemplary damages in court cases.
In their letter, the press freedom organisations told the Queen: "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."
They added: "By laying down rules about how that regulator must work and how the ethical codes that bind the press should be written, this toxic c harter 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."
If the UK moves to control the press through the force of law, 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 letter warned.
"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 signatories told the Queen.
"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, Y our Majesty, that will regrettably be taken in vain."
The letter warned the charter would be "seized on by enemies of free speech everywhere eager to impose similar controls", who will argue: "If it is good enough for the Queen, it is good enough for us."
The letter was signed by the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust, the FIPP worldwide magazine media association, the Inter American Press Association, the International Association of Broadcasting, the International Press Institute, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers and the World Press Freedom Committee.