Celebrities ask press to accept charter regulation plan

(Clockwise from top left) John Cleese, JK Rowling, Victoria Wood, Sir David Attenborough

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John Cleese, Sir David Attenborough, JK Rowling, and Victoria Wood are among 200 performers, writers and academics calling on newspapers to agree to the Royal Charter on press regulation.

They have added their names to an advert from campaign group Hacked Off.

Its declaration says the charter, published a year ago, safeguards newspapers from political interference.

But the industry is setting up its own regulator. It says it fears the charter may allow outside control of the press.

Proposals to change the existing system of press regulation emerged following the phone-hacking affair and subsequent Leveson Inquiry into the ethics and practices of newspapers.

The Royal Charter was finally agreed by all three main political parties last October. It follows many of the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry and proposes the Press Complaints Commission be replaced by a regulator with greater powers.

The tycoon Sir Richard Branson; actors Peter Capaldi, Michael Palin and Stephen Fry; comedians Rory Bremner and Miranda Hart; Professor Richard Dawkins; writer Salman Rushdie; film director Danny Boyle; playwrights Sir David Hare and Sir Tom Stoppard, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams are among the other signatories to the advertisement backing the charter.

'Nothing to lose'

It appears in several newspapers and magazines and says a "free press is a cornerstone of democracy.

"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."

The declaration signed by the celebrities adds that "editors and journalists will rise in public esteem when they accept a form of self-regulation that is independently audited on the lines recommended by Lord Justice Leveson.

"It is our view that this Charter safeguards the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable."

Hacked Off has carried out a high-profile campaign, led by actors Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, to reform the press in the wake of the Leveson report.

The group, which says it relies on donations from supporters for its funding, has been pressing for the Royal Charter to be adopted.

Meanwhile, a new regulatory body, called the Independent Press Standards Organisation, is being set up by most of the national newspapers.

It will have similar powers of imposing fines on newspapers for breaches of a standards code to those being proposed by the Royal Charter.

'Stand with victims'

But it has been criticised by groups such as the Media Standards Trust for not being sufficiently independent of the big newspaper groups.

However, the BBC's media correspondent David Sillito says the newspapers are unlikely to agree to any oversight by the committee proposed by the Royal Charter that seeks to ensure the standards laid out in the Leveson Report.

Gerry McCann, father of missing Madeleine McCann, has been one of Hacked Off's most prominent supporters.

Mr McCann said it was "not a surprise" that so many public figures had put their names to the campaign.

He went on: "But it is very gratifying that they are prepared to stand publicly with the victims of press abuse and call on the newspapers to comply with the Royal Charter."

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