Hacked off: the power of the anti-press goes global

The pressure group's achievements have foreign leaders clamouring for their talents. A startling development, says John Walsh

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The Independent Online

Fresh from its triumphant negotiations with all three political parties for more effective monitoring of the press, Hacked Off, the group that champions victims of press intrusion, has begun to attract the attention of foreign governments that suffer from their own troublesome Fourth Estates.

It has emerged that Hacked Off was approached for help on 22 March by Prudence et Silence, a Brussels-based collective of businessmen and public figures. Its members have unavailingly lobbied the Belgian government for months, demanding it initiate legislation to curb or prevent hostile media reportage of sensitive EU issues and "impertinent" speculation into the private lives of MEP's wives and girlfriends. Hacked Off executive director Brian Cathcart promised to offer them a "consultative document" outlining a strategy of "enlightened pressure."

Now, it seems, Hacked Off's influence has spread. Right-wing political parties in Holland, Luxembourg and Spain have asked for consultations with Cathcart and his celebrity associates, to establish a "discursive framework" for laws that will curb the worst excesses of journalists without harming press freedom. "Obviously we're not against the press speaking truth to power," Geert Wilders, of the Freedom Party, said. "But not at the expense of individuals. Too many of our honest countrymen suffer the lies of unscrupulous editors with their own agendas. With the help of Hacked Off, we can put our best case in the House of Representatives, and debate with the voices of angels – like your Charlotte Church!"

While Hacked Off waits for parliamentary confirmation of the "Royal Charter" on press regulation that was agreed in Ed Miliband's office during the so-called "2am deal", it will have its consultancy work cut out. So many foreign administrations have asked for its assistance in regulating the press, it has had to employ a communications consultant, Alf Prolio, 37, formerly with Friends of the Earth.

"Our post bag, both physical and digital, is bulging every day," he said. "We've heard from senior government figures in Kenya, the Seychelles, even Italy, asking for our help in setting up plausible-sounding structures for curbing the Press. Only yesterday, someone from Burma got in touch, can you believe it?"

Some Hacked Off supporters have complained about the ethics of assisting foreign powers with poor records of human rights.

"I've heard these arguments," a Hacked Off spokesman said. "And our conscience is clear. The principle stands. The press needs to be curbed, in case it upsets the weak and vulnerable. Full stop. If, say, the Sudanese government recognises the truth of this, our two countries will soon take a step closer to thinking alike."

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