Press Freedom

Why is it important?

Freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech.

A free press is fundamental to a democratic society. It seeks out and circulates news, information, ideas, comment and opinion and holds those in authority to account. The press provides the platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.

Current threats

The battle between politicians and the press in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry has abated but not disappeared. New legislation has been passed aimed at punishing newspapers in libel and privacy cases – even if they win - if they have refused to sign up to state-backed regulation, a mixture of medieval perogative and political control.  No significant publications have chosen to submit to this regime. Instead, the majority of the industry – nationals, regionals and magazines – has signed up to a tough new system of self-regulation under the Independent Press Standards Organisation which started work in September 2014.

The press provides the platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.

The industry remains wholly opposed to the Royal Charter and the legislation underpinning it and has been challenging it in the Courts. It is a battle it is willing to take to Strasbourg if necessary.

Threats to press freedom include implementation of the EU data protection legislation and journalistic exemptions, Law Commission proposals for tougher criminal laws against government leaks, efforts to water down Freedom of Information legislation which the NMA has successfully campaigned against, new court reporting restrictions, the use of state surveillance powers to uncover journalists' sources, and the continuing suggestion of the introduction of jail sentences for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

Journalists in the UK are also subject to a wide range of legal restrictions which inhibit freedom of expression. These include the libel laws, official secrets and anti-terrorism legislation, the law of contempt and other legal restrictions on court reporting, the law of confidence and development of privacy and data protection actions, intellectual property laws, legislation regulating public order, trespass, harassment, anti-discrimination and obscenity.

There is some special provision for journalism and other literary and artistic activities, chiefly intended as protection against prior restraint, in the data protection and human rights legislation. There are some additional, judicial safeguards requiring court orders or judicial consent before the police can gain access to journalistic material or state agencies can instigate surveillance in certain circumstances, but, in practice, the law provides limited protection to journalistic material and sources.

What is the NMA doing about it?

The NMA campaigns to safeguard press freedom, promote freedom of expression, open government and open justice. It resists any special controls on the press. It continues to make the case for self-regulation of the press versus any form of state-backed regulation. The industry remains wholly opposed to the Royal Charter and the legislation underpinning it and has been challenging it in the Courts. It is a battle it is willing to take to Strasbourg if necessary.