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06 June 2019

World’s Press Calls On UK To Address Press Freedom Concerns

The world’s press has called on the United Kingdom to address critical press freedom challenges facing the country by taking a number of steps including prioritising the safety of journalists and repealing Section 40. 

At the World News Media Congress in Glasgow this weekend, the board of WAN-IFRA issued six press freedom resolutions to promote press freedom in the UK including a call for robust exemptions for news media from measures designed to crack down on online harms.  

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who backed the News Media Association’s Journalism Matters campaign, highlighted the importance of a free press to democratic society in a speech to delegates at the event.

He said: "If we want to embrace the opportunities of a free society, encourage the open exchange of ideas, pass informed judgement on our leaders and do it peacefully through the ballot box, then we must defend the institution which enables all of this," Hunt said.

"We must promote a free media not solely for practical reasons but because it’s what we stand for. Democracy and freedom of expression mean nothing unless independent journalists are able to scrutinise the powerful – and discover the stubborn facts – however inconvenient this might sometimes be for the politicians on the receiving end."  

 “We deplore the 18th April killing of journalist Lyra McKee,” said the WAN-IFRA board. “We urge the Police Service of Northern Ireland to vigorously pursue its investigation until her killer is identified and brought to justice.”

The board encouraged Northern Ireland politicians to work through the current political impasse as a means of prioritising the safety of journalists and to “strongly deter the onset of a climate of impunity for those who attack or murder media professionals.”

The board also urged the UK Government to make good on its commitment to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which would force news media publishers to pay claimants' legal costs in libel and privacy actions even if their journalism was vindicated by the courts.  

“We remain seriously concerned that the threat implied by this legislation encourages a climate of self-censorship and risks silencing investigative journalism,” said the board.

The WAN-IFRA board gave its support for an exemption for news media publishers from the new legal controls, codes of conduct and regulatory systems proposed by the Online Harms White Paper, which are intended to curb the influence and reach of technology companies.

“The UK government must ensure that any extension of the criminal or civil law in respect to online harms, offensive communications, hate speech and harassment does not limit press freedom,” the board said. 

The board also called for reform of defamation laws in Northern Ireland and Scotland to bring them into line with the 2013 Defamation Act already applicable in England and Wales.