UK NEWSPAPERS have warned that if a government bill authorising police to seize journalists’ notebooks, photos and digital files is passed today, it could seriously endanger press freedom in this country.
Currently, requests for reporters’ notebooks and files must be made in open court, and representatives of news organisations are allowed to be present in the courtroom.
However, if Clause 47 in Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin’s deregulation bill is passed today, secret hearings could authorise the seizure of journalists’ files.
The Newspaper Society, which represents hundreds of newspapers and broadcast channels, said in a statement released on Friday commenting on the measure: ‘Reporters are put at risk, whether reporting riot or investigating wrongdoing, if they are perceived to be ready sources of information for the police.’
The bill gives the police carte blanche to access journalists’ information without their consent.
‘We are alarmed that the removal of such important statutory protections of freedom of expression is put forward as a deregulatory measure,’ the Society statement noted.
Based on an order by the Metropolitan Police in November, journalists are obligated to deliver confidential information in secret courts.
In one of the relevant cases, a former officer of the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) was charged with disclosing information to a Sky News correspondent.
A secret court ordered Sky News to hand over emails and any other related information passed between the officer and the journalist.
The High Court ruled that seeking such information in closed courts was illegal and the charges against the SAS man were later dropped.
Under the dregulation bill, the police will be basically given carte blanche to access journalists’ information without their consent.
• A WAN-IFRA (World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers) international press freedom mission comprising publishers and editors from five continents concerned about the Royal Charter on press regulation’s impact upon press freedom will arrive in the UK this week to meet with politicians including Culture Secretary Maria Miller.
Announcing the mission in October last year, WAN-IFRA’s Peyrègne said: ‘A press freedom mission to the United Kingdom is unprecedented and we cannot underestimate our concern for what is happening.
‘It is rather difficult for the United Kingdom to lecture Sri Lanka and others about their press freedom record, when its own actions result in such widespread international condemnation.
‘We are concerned that these actions not only seriously damage the United Kingdom’s historic international reputation as a staunch defender of press freedom, but provides encouragement to non-democratic regimes to justify their own repressive actions.’