Consider this. A journalist gets arrested for taking pictures of a public protest and is held for many hours in a police station, their protestations that they were ‘press’ and simply doing their job falling on deaf ears.
Or this. You publish an exposé bringing to light evidence of widespread wrongdoing in a government department. The story is based on material leaked to you by a whistle-blower who broke the Official Secrets Act to get you the information. Your justification for publishing the story is “public interest”, yet whether or not this is deemed to be a sufficient defence will be down to a politician to decide. Your liberty hangs in the balance.
In the UK? Fanciful, surely.
Despite being ranked #24 in the World Press Freedom Index, we habitually reassure ourselves that whilst we might not be Norway (#1), we’re a long way from North Korea (#180).
Well, it’s a slippery slope and the tenets of a free press can be steadily eroded even in societies that theoretically value it.
Last week, a number of journalists were arrested and detained whilst covering a ‘Just Stop Oil’ protest on the M25.
And this week, the National Security Bill came back to the Commons for a second reading. The Society of Editors, amongst others, has described it as posing a grave threat to press freedom that “rides roughshod” over established journalistic protections.
Of particular concern is the government’s failure to include a public interest defence clause, which, says the Society, runs the risk of “criminalising public interest journalism”.
Whether it’s the result of sloppily drafted legislation (remember the Dangerous Dogs Act) or something more sinister, the result is that the press in this country has a fight on its hand if we are to avoid slipping further down the index …
(Finally, we are putting together the mailing list for the November / December issue of InPublishing magazine. If you’d like to be added to the free mailing list, then please register here.)
You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.