Jodie Ginsberg: “We need a free, vibrant, independent and troublesome media” (Sky News, 9 May 2018)


Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg debated Evan Harris on Sky News on 9 May ahead of the UK’s House of Commons vote on amendments to the Data Protection Bill that would reintroduce into law restrictions on the press that the current government has rightly said it will not implement, namely forcing any publisher who refuses to sign up to a state-approved regulator to pay the legal costs of any data protection case brought against them, even if they win.

Ginsberg spoke in defence of a “free, vibrant, independent and troublesome media” that provides us with the information big business and the corrupt would rather remain concealed.

Index on Censorship is pleased to hear the amendments to the Data Protection Bill are likely not going ahead. This amendment had serious consequences for a free press, a cornerstone of democracy[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1526037704389-09ad51e7-e052-6″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Nick Davies: Ipso could have killed phone-hacking investigations

“The greatest threat to freedom of the press in our country is our libel law. Why do we have this weird defamation law, where the idea is that if we get something wrong about someone, we have to pay a pile of money? We should correct it with equal prominence. Take money and costs out of the picture. Because, on the whole, only the rich can afford it,” investigative journalist Nick Davies told an audience at the Frontline Club last night.

Davies, who unveiled the extent of the phone-hacking scandal and has just published his book Hack Attack, was in conversation with author and former ITN chief Stewart Purvis (above), talking about hacking, press regulation and this week’s launch of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso).

Below are some highlights.

On his hacking investigation:
“The crimes weren’t serious enough to spend seven years of your life working on it. What makes it interesting is it’s about power. The thing that Murdoch generates – aside from money and circulation figures – is fear. Once a media mogul has established this kind of fear – he doesn’t have to tell the government, the police or the PCC what to do. They will all try and placate him. That’s really what this book is about and if there is any justification for doing this much work on one story, it’s that.”

On Ipso – which he describes as a “phoney regulator”:
“If Ipso turns out to be subject to the same influences of the big news organisations as its predecessor the PCC, then it is very worrying because Ipso has considerably more power. It has the power to investigate; it has the power to levy fines. You imagine what would have happened if that had been in place when we were investigating phone hacking. They could have killed that story off.”

On the greatest threat to freedom of the press:
“The greatest threat to freedom of the press in our country is our libel law. Why do we have this weird defamation law, where the idea is that if we get something wrong about someone, we have to pay a pile of money? We should correct it with equal prominence. Take money and costs out of the picture. Because, on the whole, only the rich can afford it.”

On whether the truth has caught up with Murdoch, as the book’s subheading suggests:
“There was a moment when the truth caught up with Murdoch – that day in Parliament with his son – but slowly the power comes back. Now he is meeting Nigel Farage [Ukip leader] as if this Australian with American citizenship has any sort of influence at all about what happens in our next election. What is wrong with our system that he is allowed to display such arrogance? We are the voters. It will be interesting to see if in the run up to the 2015 elections he and his newspapers throw their weight around as usual. I fear we will see a familiar pattern, as the bully in the playground.”

On the future of journalism:
“The biggest best hope for journalism is that it continues to attract energetic, bright, idealistic young people. But then you see them being fed into this mincing machine. The key to our revival is fixing the broken business model. We need to find a solution to this problem.”

On the internet:
“[With internet news], you end up with fragmentation. The communist produces news for communists, the racist produces news for racists. Nobody is factchecking, nobody is accountable. It’s much worse, potentially, than the mainstream news organisations that come in for such a kicking. The internet is potentially a very destructive force. I’m not necessarily saying it will go this way, but it could rank up there with nuclear weapons, where you say, ‘Christ, that was clever of us to invent that, but we potentially wish we hadn’t done it’. I just don’t know where it is going to go.”

On citizen journalism:
“In an ideal world, we should have professional journalists. There are too many people on the left whose knee-jerk reaction is to assume that all journalists working for big corporations are corrupt and unable to tell the truth. To dismiss journalists from these organisations going to Syria and Iraq and risking their lives as corporate puppets is really disgusting. There is a belief that if the profession of journalism dies out, we’ll be better off with citizen journalists. Do you want citizen doctors too?”

On who he’d like to play him in the film version of his book (the rights to Hack Attack having just been bought by George Clooney):
Colin Firth

Join us to debate the future of journalism and whether it might lead to democratic deficit at the Frontline Club on October 22, or subscribe to Index on Censorship magazine to read our special report on the future of journalism and whether the public will end up with more knowledge or less.

This article was posted on 10 Sept 2014 at

State of UK media freedom slammed by international press organisation

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Image: Semmick Photo/Shutterstock)

Restricting press freedom in the name of national security, the Royal Charter press regulator and the UK’s lack of constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression were only some of the things criticised in a new report by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). The organisation represents over 18,000 publications and 15,000 websites in over 120 countries.

Referring to the UK’s influence internationally WAN-IFRA says: “How changes to the system of press regulation are managed in the UK will have an unparalleled impact beyond its shores.” They fear that a regulator with government involvement — such as the Royal Charter — risks being “an open invitation for abuse” of press freedom in less democratic countries. The report in many ways echoes Index on Censorship’s position on press regulation and threats to press freedom in the UK.

The report comes after concerns were expressed by UK media and press freedom organisations over the state of press freedom following the Leveson debate, and the threats and pressure faced by the Guardian over their reporting on Snowden and mass surveillance, culminating in the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement overseen by GCHQ representatives. A delegation from WAN-IFRA travelled to the UK on a fact-finding mission in January.

The report agrees that the phone hacking scandal led to a major breach in public confidence in the press, but stressed that the vast majority of British journalists “adhere to professional standards”. It warns against conflating the hacking scandal with the regulatory debate, stressing that: “British law provides appropriate remedy for illegal activity in proven cases of wrongdoing.”

The report makes several heavy criticisms of the proposed Royal Charter system. Punitive damages, enshrined in statute, for not signing up to the regulator “defies any definition of ‘voluntary’ as understood by the WAN-IFRA delegation”. The report in particular says that it was quite inappropriate to develop a system of press regulation without the involvement of the industry in the final stages of discussion, when the government’s preferred Royal Charter was drawn up. The speed of implementation, the lack of legislative scrutiny, parliamentary vote or public consultation was criticised, with the report arguing the whole process should have been more transparent. “The Royal Charter system — used as an example or transposed elsewhere to countries lacking the United Kingdom’s historic commitment to human rights — risks an open invitation for abuse in other parts of the world,” it argues.

The report further states that claims of the Royal Charter being a “hands-offs” regulator is “undermined by the readiness of the UK government to intervene against the Guardian newspaper”. The treatment the Guardian has been subject to following their mass surveillance revelations was identified as a cause for concern. Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims that the reporting harmed national security, with no evidence to back this up, “suggest an unprecedented level of political interference in the freedom of the press”. The report states that he should distance his government from conflating terrorism with journalism. However, the recent court judgement finding the detention of David Miranda (partner of Glen Greenwald) legal under the UK’s Terrorism Act suggests that any positive response to this recommendation is unlikely. The report also criticised other publisher’s perceived lack of support for the Guardian, calling it a “low point” given “the apparent need for solidarity within the media fraternity”.

“If the UK government feels it is acceptable, in the name of national security, to dictate what is in the public interest, and given the UK’s continued influence over developing nations where media are essential for the spread of democratic values, the future of a free, independent press that can hold power to account is under threat worldwide,” said WAN-IFRA CEO, Vincent Peyrègne.

The report also expresses, among other things, worries over the arrests of journalists, criminalisation of social media, mass surveillance and proposals to introduce web filters.

Recommendations include urging the UK government “to step back from any further involvement – perceived or otherwise – in the regulation issue”, to defend and support public interest journalism, and encourage investigative reporting “as an essential benefit to society”.

This article was posted on 19 March 2014 at

Life After Leveson: The UK media in 2014

The Leveson Report is Published

Britain has always had a complicated relationship with the free press. On the one hand, Milton’s Apologia, Mill’s On Liberty, Orwell’s volleys at censorship and propaganda.

On the other hand, there is a sense that journalists, editors and proprietors are at best incompetent and at worst genuinely venal people whose sole interest is making others miserable.

This ambivalence carries over into the political debate about the media, and the laws and regulations governing the press and broader free speech issues. All British politicians pay lip service to free speech, but the records of successive governments have been far from perfect. For every success, there is a setback.

This paper will provide a brief overview of the state of media freedom in the UK today

Press regulation and the Royal Charter

The Leveson Inquiry into the press reported in November 2012, with numerous recommendations on how press regulation should proceed. After months of negotiation led to deadlock over the issue of a “statutory backstop” to a regulator, in April 2013 the government attempted to resolve the issue, publishing a draft of a “Royal Charter” for the regulation of the press. In spite of the newspapers’ attempt to put forward their own competing royal charter, the Privy Council officially approved the government version in October 2013.

While the government and supporters claim that this is insulated from political interference, requiring consent of all three main parties in both houses (as well as a 2/3 majority) before the charter can be altered, critics say that royal charters, granted by the Privy Council, are essentially still political tools.

But how did we get to this point?

The Leveson Inquiry was called in response to the phone hacking scandal which gripped the country in 2010 and 2011. Journalists and contractors for News of the World, News International’s hugely successful Sunday tabloid, were alleged to have hacked the voice message of 100s of people, most notoriously murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Several criminal trials of senior News International figures continue at time of publication.

As allegations of dubious behaviour began to be made against other papers, judge Sir Brian Leveson was charged with leading an inquiry into the industry. The inquiry, which opened in late 2011, heard from a huge range of people, from celebrities to civil society activists.

An increasingly polarized debate has seen the newspapers lined up on one side, opposed to the current Royal Charter, and campaign group Hacked Off, as well as the major political parties, on the other. The newspapers plan to set up their own regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which may not seek recognition under the Royal Charter. It is claimed that IPSO will be operational by 1 May. This would be funded by the newspapers, with representation from the industry on its governing bodies.

Hacked Off and their supporters, who claim to represent the interests of victims of phone hacking and press intrusion, say that the newspapers cannot “mark their own homework”, and insist that any regulator must be “Leveson compliant” and recognised under the Royal Charter.

There have been confusing political signals. While Culture Secretary Maria Miller suggested that IPSO, if it functioned well, may not need to apply for recognition, the Prime Minister David Cameron told the Spectator magazine that he believed that the Royal Charter was the best deal the press would get, and that publishers should sign up lest a more authoritarian scheme be introduced.

Index on Censorship has opposed the Royal Charter and supporting legislation on several grounds.

– Changing the Royal Charter While supporters claim the Royal Charter cannot, practically, be changed by politicians, Index believes it would be possible to gain the two-thirds majority required in both houses to alter it, particularly if there were to be another hacking-style scandal. The Privy Council is essentially a political body, and recognition by royal charter a political tool.

– Exemplary damages The Crime and Courts Act sets out that an organisation which does not join the regulator but falls under its remit will potentially become subject to exemplary damages should they end up in court. In addition, even if they win, they could also be forced to pay the costs of their opponents. While it is claimed that membership of a regulator with statutory underpinning is voluntary, it is clear that there are severe, punitive consequences for those who remain outside the regulator. There is controversy over whether this is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The imposition of exemplary damages is likely to have a strongly chilling effect on freedom of expression – this could be particularly felt by already financially squeezed local publications and small magazines.

– Corrections The Royal Charter proposes the regulator will be able to “direct” the wording and placement of apologies and corrections. This is an effective transfer of editorial control. It represents a level of external interference with editorial procedures that would undermine editorial independence and undermine press freedom. A tougher new independent regulator could reasonably require corrections to be made, but directing content of newspapers is a dangerous idea.

– Scope The Royal Charter is designed, in its own words, to regulate “relevant” publishers of “news-related material”. It sets out a very broad definition of news publishers and of what news is (including in the definition celebrity gossip). Despite some subsequent attempts by politicians to establish some exclusions, such as for trade publications and charities for instance, the attempt to distinguish press from other organisations remains problematic. In a media industry undergoing rapid change, distinctions between platforms are increasingly blurred, and stories from unlikely sources can have every bit as much impact as those from the traditional media whose power pro-regulation activists seek to curb.

The next few months will be crucial as IPSO and alternatives, such as the IMPRESS project, take up positions. IPSO will be keen to recruit publications that have not already joined and present itself as fait accompli, pointing out that nowhere in the Leveson recommendations is there specific mention of a Royal Charter.

But at the core of the entire argument is the fundamental fact that the government has been willing to use coercive, punitive measures specifically directed at the press.

Libel – a free speech victory?
On 1 January, the Defamation Act 2014 became statute. The new law, represented a victory for the Libel Reform Campaign led by Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense About Science. The LRC had its roots in two things – English Pen and Index on Censorship’s report “Free Speech Is Not For Sale” and Sense About Science’s campaign “Keep Libel Laws Out Of Science”.

That campaign identified key problems with England’s libel law, which was simply not fit for the internet age. Among the issues were the ease with which foreign claimants could bring cases in London courts, and the lack of a coherent statute of limitation on web publication.

The new act, while still far from perfect, is, at least on paper, an improvement on what has gone before. It should in theory provide greater protection for writers.

Among the changes are the introduction of a strong public interest defence, a one-year statute of limitation on online articles (where previously each new “download” counted as a new publication), and a “serious harm” test for corporations wishing to sue for defamation.

One major point of concern is the refusal of Northern Ireland’s government to update its statute books in line with that of England and Wales. Libel lawyer Paul Tweed, who practices in Belfast, Dublin and London, has pointed out that wealthy litigants hoping for a more claimant-friendly regime may now take cases to Belfast rather than London. It is imperative that pressure continues to be put on the political parties in Northern Ireland to introduce the new legislation.

Surveillance and protection of sources
There is little doubt about what was the biggest global story in 2013. The revelations about global surveillance carried out by the US’s National Security Agency, with the help of Britain’s GCHQ, dominated much of the global conversation. But while the US has made some noises about reviewing its surveillance procedures (though it has shown no intention of halting its pursuit of whistleblower Edward Snowden), the UK government managed a very special combination of burying its head in the sand and shooting the messenger.

The Prime Minister warned the Guardian that it should stop publishing revelations or face legal action. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger was summoned before parliament and accused of deliberately endangering British security.

Security officials even visited the Guardian and demanded that hard drives containing leaked material be destroyed in front of them, in spite of the fact they were aware the data was also held elsewhere.

David Miranda, the partner of the Rio-based journalist Glenn Greenwald, was stopped at Heathrow airport under terror legislation. This was clearly done in order to confiscate source material.

That action was challenged in the courts by Miranda, with Index on Censorship entering evidence in support of the case. The legal challenge to the detention of Mr Miranda has been dismissed by the High Court, though there is the possibility of an appeal.

The case raises serious questions about protection of journalists’ materials and sources. There was also grave concern that terror legislation was used against a person carrying out journalistic activity.

Meanwhile, the government has proposed, as part of the deregulation bill, a new system which would make it easier for authorities to force journalists to hand over materials and information about sources. The Deregulation Bill could, if passed unamended, strip away safeguards for journalists faced with demands for their materials from police, removing the requirement for judicial scrutiny of such demands.

2014 will be a crucial year, not just for newspapers, but for free speech for everyone in the UK. For as the wall between publisher and consumer is rapidly being dismantled, it will become harder and harder to compartmentalise press freedom and general principles of free speech.
While the reform of our libel laws will, we hope, be of great benefit to to free expression in the UK and beyond, there are still several areas where this government can act to safeguard the free press and free speech more broadly in the coming year. Chief among these is that we must allow press self-regulation to proceed without coercion. No one should be forced to sign up to the press Royal Charter, and no one should be subjected to exemplary damages. In short, self-regulation should be just that.

Moreover, the government should state its commitment to protection of journalistic sources, a crucial cornerstone of the fourth estate which has come under severe threat as a result of the Miranda case.

Finally, the government should ensure that Belfast does not become a haven for libel tourism, by doing everything it can to support the extension of the new Defamation Act to Northern Ireland.