Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfonso Cuaron, Maggie Smith Back U.K. Press Regulation
LONDON – A group of more than 200 British celebrities and personalities, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfonso Cuaron, Maggie Smith and current Doctor Who lead Peter Capaldi, has urged newspaper owners to embrace stricter U.K. press regulation, which political parties had agreed on a year ago.
Hacked Off, a group that has been campaigning on behalf of victims of press abuse with Hugh Grant as one of its public faces, ran ads in several U.K. papers on Tuesday to mark the one-year anniversary of the political agreement that calls for a so-called royal charter to underpin a system of self-regulation. The ads cited a declaration supported by a who's who of famous Brits that called for acceptance of the charter, which was based on the findings of the Leveson Inquiry into U.K. media ethics and standards that was launched amid the phone-hacking scandal.
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Many newspaper groups, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corp's News UK unit, have focused on starting an alternative self regulator, saying that the use of a royal charter, a specific U.K. way of underpinning rules, could ultimately give politicians too much oversight of the press. Other publishers have not joined them in pursuing their own self-regulatory model, but have also not backed the charter.
Public apologies and corrections are one key sanction for newspapers running afoul of the code of conduct under the envisioned royal charter system, which supporters have said would provide avenues for members of the public and celebrities to seek sanctions in the case of press intrusion or abuse. A new regulator would be able to require and even direct apologies, the latter being a form of using more force. Offending papers could also be forced to pay fines of up to $1.5 million (£1 million).
Victims could use a complaints process, in which the regulator would decide whether complaints are warranted and what measures to take. Newspaper publishers that don't accept the new press regulator would be subject to exemplary damages if they publish stories in disregard of claimants' rights.
Critics in the newspaper industry have expressed concern about the severity of some measures and argued that regulation from outside the industry could put newspapers at the mercy of politicians. Some have also said that "unreasonable" representatives of anti-press groups could end up being part of the regulator, even though the charter says that all members must meet strict requirements, ensuring professionalism.
The back-and-forth debate has delayed the launch of any new regulatory system.
Among the other celebrities supporting Tuesday's declaration for press regulation were former Doctor Who star David Tennant, Russell Brand, Ian McKellen, Steve Coogan and Bob Geldof; directors Danny Boyle, Sam Mendes, Stephen Daldry, Stephen Frears, Guy Ritchie and Mike Leigh; TV talk star Graham Norton; Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Monty Python members John Cleese, Michael Palin and Eric Idle. Other famous supporters include James Blunt, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and entrepreneur Richard Branson.
Some of them, including Cleese and Rowling, have also signed previous Hacked Off declarations.
The Hacked Off ads appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and other papers. The signatories of the declaration urged newspapers to embrace the royal charter system of regulation.
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"We believe that a free press is a cornerstone of democracy," the declaration said. "It should be fearless in exposing corruption, holding the powerful to account and championing the powerless. It has nothing to lose, and can only be enhanced, by acknowledging unethical practice in its midst and acting firmly to ensure it is not repeated."
It added that the royal charter "safeguards the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable. That is why we support it, and that is why we urge newspaper publishers to embrace it.”
In a statement, Cleese said: "The big newspaper bosses are lying though their teeth about the Leveson recommendations. They say their freedom is being threatened, but when anyone points out what self-serving rubbish this is, they ignore these arguments and instead attack the people who are trying to get the truth heard. Their unscrupulousness is breathtaking."