UK must call for release of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa


Maria Ressa is CEO and Executive Editor of

Maria Ressa is CEO and Executive Editor of

Index on Censorship condemns the arrest of journalist and Rappler chief executive Maria Ressa by Philippines authorities and calls on the UK to make good on its promises to defend media freedom globally by calling for her release.

“The UK Foreign Office has made media freedom its flagship campaign for 2019. Jeremy Hunt must make good on his promises to champion media freedom worldwide by showing that the actions of the Philippines authorities are unacceptable,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, a freedom of expression campaign group.

Ressa was arrested in connection with a story published by her news outlet in May 2012. Officers from the National Bureau of Investigation arrested Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa early Wednesday evening, February 13, in connection with a cyber libel case filed by the Philippines justice department, according to Rappler.

Maria Ressa is one of the judges for this year’s Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards and featured in the 2018 autumn edition of Index on Censorship magazine.[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1550060728999-3fa7b40d-3dd0-2″ taxonomies=”6534″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Hunt: News of the World closure forced me to re-evaluate BSkyB bid

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt today told the Leveson Inquiry that the closure of the News of the World in the midst of the phone-hacking scandal had made him re-evaluate parent company News Corp’s bid for BSkyB.

Mr Hunt admitted that he had previously been in favour of the Murdoch takeover, but claimed he had been able to put personal bias aside when handed the “quasi-judicial” role of adjudicating on the bid, saying: “When I took charge of bid, my job was to ensure our democracy was safe.”

Addressing the resignation of his special adviser Adam Smith, Hunt blamed the “inappropriately” intimate language used by Smith on the volume of communication was subjected to by Murdoch lobbyist Frédéric Michel. However, he insisted Smith was “repeating stuff News International would already have known was my thinking”.

When asked about his views on the future of press regulation, Hunt said he would not wish to endanger free expression, but suggested that a future regulator may need to include digital and on-demand platforms as well as traditional publishing.

Hunt had been battling to save his political career following the revelation of close contact between his department and News Corp during the time of the BSkyB bid, leading to Smith’s resignation and pressure from Labour that the culture secretary had not been the “impartial arbiter” he was required to be.

Yet shortly after his appearance at the Inquiry, Downing Street announced David Cameron was satisfied Hunt had acted “properly” throughout the bid, and that he would not order an investigation into whether Hunt breached the ministerial code.

The Inquiry continues on Monday 11 June.

UPDATE 01/06: Labour said this morning it will call a vote in the House of Commons over Hunt’s conduct.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Leveson Inquiry reveals Jeremy Hunt congratulated James Murdoch on BSkyB progress

Jeremy Hunt texted George Osborne shortly before he was handed control of News Corp’s £8 billion bid for full control of BSkyB, telling the chancellor he was “seriously worried” the government would “screw up” the bid.

In evidence disclosed to the Leveson Inquiry this morning, it was also revealed that the embattled culture secretary texted James Murdoch on the same day, congratulating him for receiving approval from the European Commission on the company’s bid.

This text message was sent just hours before the BBC revealed that business secretary Vince Cable — at that point in charge of adjudicating the bid — had told undercover Telegraph reporters he had “declared war” on News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch, remarks that were seen as proof of bias. Cable was later stripped of his responsibility, which was passed over to Hunt and announced by Downing Street at around 6pm on 21 December 2010.

At 12:57pm on 21 December, Hunt texted James Murdoch: “Great and congrats on Brussels. Just Ofcom to go”, shortly after the European Commission’s approval of the bid.

At 2:30pm the BBC published Cable’s comments, which Hunt said were discussed in a phone call with James Murdoch at 4pm.

Eight minutes later Hunt texted Osborne, noting he was “seriously worried we are going to screw this up” regarding the bid. In a second message to the chancellor, he noted that Murdoch was accusing Cable of “acute bias” over the bid.

Osborne later texted Hunt: “I hope you like our solution”, shortly before Downing Street’s announcement that Hunt had been given charge for the bid.

Such revelatory messages place further pressure on Leveson to call the chancellor to give evidence before the Inquiry.

Elsewhere in an intense morning of evidence, Hunt defended his handling of the bid, saying he was .”sympathetic” to it rather than “supportive” of it”, and repeated his defence that he did not feel it presented a “major plurality” issue.

Hunt confirmed he received legal advice in November 2010 urging him that it would be “unwise” to intervene. Yet, explaining a memo he sent to David Cameron in the same month, in which he told the PM that it would be “totally wrong to cave in” to the bid’s opponents, Hunt said he had concerns about a situation “where we had a significant merger in my sector” that was encountering obstacles, adding that he sought to be “absolutely proper” in his approach.

“I had an absolute duty to be across the most important issue in that industry,” Hunt said.

He also defended as “appropriate” his 16 November phone call with James Murdoch, despite having received legal advice to avoid becoming involved in News Corp’s bid. Hunt told the Inquiry he “heard what was on his [Murdoch’s] mind.”

“I probably gave him a sympathetic hearing but I probably said I couldn’t get involved in that decision because I had taken legal advice that I couldn’t,” Hunt said.

A meeting between the two was cancelled the day before, following the legal advice, with Hunt explaining he did not see the telephone call as a replacement. “My interpretation of the advice was that I should not involve myself in a quasi-judicial process that’s being run by another secretary of state [Cable].”

Discussing the high level of contact revealed by the Inquiry last month between Hunt’s former adviser Adam Smith and News Corp lobbyist Fred Michel, Hunt said his department was not prepared for the “barrage” of messages from Michel.

“I doubt there’s a minister who worked more closely with a special adviser than I worked with Adam Smith,” Hunt said, explaining that Smith, who resigned in the wake of the revelations, was aware of his views but this did not mean he spoke for him.

He added that Smith was never given instructions on how to deal with News Corp. He repeatedly referred to the adviser as an “official point of contact” to answer questions on the bid process. He rejected counsel Robert Jay QC’s suggestion that the Michel-Smith contact — which included over 1,000 text messages over the course of the bid — was an “extra layer”.

The Labour party has since upped the volume on its calls for Hunt to resign, arguing he was not the “impartial arbiter” he was required to be.

Hunt has maintained he acted properly and within the ministerial code. David Cameron said last week he did not regret handing the bid to Hunt, stressing he acted “impartially”, but has said he will take action if evidence to the Inquiry suggests Hunt breached the code.

The Inquiry continues with further evidence from Hunt this afternoon.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson

Senior civil servant criticises Smith NewsCorp relationship

A senior civil servant said today that culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s former aide was drawn into a “web of manipulation and exaggeration” in the circumstances surrounding News Corp’s bid for a full takeover of BSkyB.

Jonathan Stephens, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) told the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon that special adviser Adam Smith, who resigned after a series of emails between the department and News Corp revealed that the company was being given advance feedback of the government’s scrutiny of the bid, was “inadvertently drawn beyond what he intended to do”.

Stephens, who confirmed he had told Hunt he felt Smith should resign due to the level of “clearly inappropriate” level of contact between the department and News Corp, said it was “matter of intense regret” that the episode occurred. Lord Justice Leveson suggested it was a “calamity” for the DCMS.

“I thought the nature, context, extent and depth of the emails meant this was far beyond what could be considered appropriate,” Stephens told the Inquiry.

He added that he was aware Smith had been in touch with the corporation, but did not know News Corp lobbyist Frederic Michel was his individual point of contact.

Events over the past month have left Jeremy Hunt fighting for his political life. Yesterday a crucial memo came to light that Hunt had sent to David Cameron in support of News Corp’s £8bn bid for control of the satellite broadcaster, sent one month before he was handed the task of adjudicating the bid in December 2010.

In the memo Hunt emphasised to Cameron that it would be “totally wrong to cave in” to the bid’s opponents, and that business secretary Vince Cable’s decision to refer the bid to regulator Ofcom could leave the government “on the wrong side of media policy”.

It was also revealed that his department and News Corp had exchanged 1,000 text messages, 191 phone calls and 158 emails as the bid was under scrutiny from June 2010 to July 2011.

Over the past two days, Smith has been scrutinised about his contact with Michel, and expressed regret for the “perception of collusion” the contact created.

He revealed today that once the emails between him and News Corp were released at the end of April, Hunt had reassured him he would not need to resign, only to be told by him the next day, “everyone here thinks you need to go”.

He resigned from his post last month following the emails’ release, conceding that his contact with News Corp “went too far”.

Hunt, who is scheduled to face questioning over the matter at the Inquiry next Thursday, has contended he acted impartially and within the ministerial code. Today David Cameron said he does not regret handing the bid to Hunt, stressing he acted “impartially”.

The Inquiry continues on Monday.

Follow Index on Censorship’s coverage of the Leveson Inquiry on Twitter – @IndexLeveson