* Press freedom mission follows international concern
* UK press unhappy with plans for new regulation
* Government plans come in wake of phone-hacking
(Adds government comment)
By Michael Holden
LONDON, Jan 15 A global media organisation began
its first press freedom mission to Britain on Wednesday over
concerns about the government's plans to regulate newspapers and
its response to the Edward Snowden revelations.
The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
(WAN-IFRA), based in Paris, said it would be holding meetings
with Culture Secretary Maria Miller as part of a visit to
Britain to discuss "worrying developments".
It said its previous press freedom missions had been
undertaken in countries such as South Africa, Libya, Yemen,
Azerbaijan and Myanmar, but never before in Britain.
"The WAN-IFRA membership is deeply concerned by the British
authorities' treatment of the profession of journalism and its
attempts to control the public debate," WAN-IFRA chief executive
Vincent Peyrègne said in a statement.
"The British government's actions have far reaching
consequences across the globe - particularly within the
Commonwealth - and any threats to the independence of journalism
in Britain could be used by repressive regimes worldwide to
justify their own controls over the press."
British newspapers have reacted with alarm and anger to
plans for a new regulatory system proposed by the government in
the wake of a phone-hacking scandal centred around the British
newspaper arm of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
The new measures approved last October followed a public
inquiry into the press launched in 2011 after revelations that
staff at Murdoch's now defunct tabloid the News of the World had
illegally intercepted voicemail messages on mobile phones,
including those of a murdered schoolgirl.
The plans are designed to make it easier for people who feel
they have been wronged by the press to have their complaints
heard, and will allow the new press watchdog to levy fines of up
to 1 million pounds ($1.64 million).
Backed by all main political parties, they are designed to
end the worst excesses of Britain's notoriously aggressive and
Although the government has stopped short of press
regulation backed by law, the industry says the new watchdog
plans are still draconian and threaten the freedom of speech.
Several newspapers have indicated they will ignore the
watchdog's recommendations to try to render it ineffective, and
have moved ahead with plans for their own version.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the new
system of self-regulation would protect press freedom while
offering redress for mistakes, and would not impinge on what
"Free speech underpins our democracy and the government has
always been clear it is vitally important to uphold it," a
Among those the WAN-IFRA delegation will meet in London will
be Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper which has
been severely criticised for its reporting of leaks from
Snowden, a former U.S. spy agency contractor.
The Guardian was among several international newspapers to
publish stories about mass surveillance by the U.S. National
Security Agency (NSA) and Britain's eavesdropping agency GCHQ,
and Rusbridger faced hostile questioning when he appeared before
a parliamentary committee in December.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)