European Human Rights Watchdog Criticizes U.K. Press Regulation Proposals

Getty Images

Government involvement "always leads to misuse of power," says the secretary-general of the Council of Europe.


LONDON - Recommendations for new U.K. press regulation by the Leveson Inquiry have drawn the ire of a big European human rights watchdog.

Like U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe said he supports tougher self-regulation of newspapers in Britain, but opposes judge Brian Leveson’s proposal of new rules underpinned by law. The secretary-general, Thorbjorn Jagland, argued that they would hurt Britain’s democracy and the country's standing.

Jagland, a former prime minister of Norway, also leads the Nobel prize committee.

"I’m very cautious about controlling the media, because it always leads to something bad - it always leads to misuse of power," he told the Financial Times.

He added: “What I have seen going on in the U.K., both related to the [News Corp. CEO Rupert] Murdoch papers, as well as what we have seen at the BBC, is very worrying...[But] I am very cautious about any kind of new regulation."

Jagland also suggested that new regulation could harm investigative journalism. "You do not need a new law to say that phone hacking is illegal. It's already a crime . . . and you can enforce existing laws to deal with the problem."

Meanwhile, political parties in Britain are discussing which parts of the Leveson proposals to put into effect and how.

Cameron is reportedly mulling a royal charter, the same foundation used for public broadcaster BBC.

The opposition Labour Party early in the week became the first to present its ideas for regulation. Its draft bill calls for the confirmation of the effectiveness of independent regulation of the newspaper industry every three years by a panel.

It suggested that the press regulatory body be named the Press Standards Trust.

A top legal adviser on the draft said: "The one thing we are determined to do with the bill is make sure that it does not involve any state body directly regulating the media."

Twitter: @georgszalai