Category Archives: News media

Media Freedom: ‘Without action the Commonwealth’s fine words will fail to impress.’

ICommonwealth flagn this guest post, journalist and Africa analyst Martin Plaut, calls on the Commonwealth to take a more robust view on new threats to journalistic independence. Do they challenge democracy and human rights as much as freedom of speech?

The Commonwealth has a problem: it has little credibility on the question of media freedom. Its members adopted a Human Rights Charter in March 2013 which stated plainly that: ‘We are committed to peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media, and to enhancing democratic traditions and strengthening democratic processes.’ Yet many of them have a less than savoury record in this area.

Out of 180 states assessed by Reporters Without Borders, Brunei is 155th, Singapore 154th and Swaziland 153rd. This is the summary of Brunei’s media offered by the BBC: ‘Brunei’s media are neither diverse nor free. The private press is either owned or controlled by the royal family, or exercises self-censorship on political and religious matters.’ Much the same could be said of Swaziland, while in Singapore the media is largely state-owned and journalists are restricted by rigorous defamation and contempt laws (The Guardian).

Where there has been dissent and opposition they have been suppressed. Consider the case of the Gambia, which left the Commonwealth in 2013. The newly installed President, Adama Barrow, has announced that it will return. In the upheaval and tension surrounding his election and the refusal of his processor, Yahya Jammeh, to accept the result, social media were disrupted. Twitter and WhatsApp, which had been used to organise resistance to President Jammeh’s rule, were unavailable, as the internet was cut. The return of social media was hailed as an indication that his 22 year rule was finally over.

Commonwealth journalists have now begun agitating for the organisation to take a more robust view. A Centre for Freedom of the Media has been established, led by William Horsley (another former BBC journalist). He welcomed the call by the new Commonwealth secretary-general, Patricia Scotland, for a ‘vibrant and responsible media’ and her claim that this is ‘vital to advancing our Commonwealth goals of democracy, development, rule of law and respect for diversity.’

But, as William Horsley points out, warm words are not enough. He called for action to support the declarations: ‘Journalists in the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA), together with the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and some experienced lawyers and members of other professional groups associated with the Commonwealth, argue that it is high time for that to change. We are putting forward draft proposals for a Commonwealth Charter on the media and good governance, to be accompanied by effective mechanisms for assessing and helping to deliver remedies for serious and persistent violations.’

The media is a vital watchdog across the developing world. In many countries it is among the last effective forms of resistance to corruption and misrule. One only has to think of the role of the independent media in curbing the abuses of the Zuma government to see that this is the case. Yet they pay a high price for this work.

As William Horsley rightly observes: ‘The reality is that many journalists or bloggers have been attacked or even killed for their work in recent years in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Uganda, all Commonwealth states,’ (Time for a new Commonwealth initiative on media freedom).

It is time that these abuses end and that the perpetrators of these attacks are tried for their crimes. Without action the Commonwealth’s fine words will fail to impress.

This post first appeared on the School of Advanced Studies, Talking Humanities blog

Martin Plaut is a journalist and senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. 

He will be speaking at The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom conference (4–5 April at Senate House), organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

It’s the inaugural event of the School’s Centre of Commonwealth and Media Freedom, and will bring together leading Commonwealth journalists, academics, lawyers, magistrates, judges, policymakers and human rights practitioners. Advance registration is required. Tickets: standard (£40), concessions (£15).

Conference: The Commonwealth and Challenges to Media Freedom

Media freedom 250pxDate
4 Apr 2017, 10:00 to 5 Apr 2017, 18:00

Venue
Institute of Advanced Legal Studies
17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

Book Online: SAS Events Calendar

Description: Convenor: Sue Onslow, ICwS Senior Lecturer and Co-Investigator, The Oral History of the Commonwealth Project

This conference will draw together members of the Commonwealth Journalists Association, the Commonwealth Lawyers and Magistrates and Judges Association, as well as journalists and policy makers. The two day meeting will address government channels and information flows (looking at the examples of government interference and restrictions in Malaysia, South Africa, Botswana and Sri Lanka); media, elections and post-election contests (with East and Central African case studies of Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda); and the particular challenges facing journalists, bloggers and social media in low-intensity conflict zones (Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh).  The Institute feels strongly there is no room for complacency in the UK in the post-Leveson environment, nor should the Indian government and society feel itself immune from regional manifestations of threats and personal violence. Therefore these aspects will also be included in the discussion.

Confirmed Speakers:

Kishali Pinto Jayawardena
Gwen Lister, Executive Chair: Namibia Media Trust (NMT)
Irene Ovonji Odida, Exec. Director, Uganda Assoc. of Women Lawyers
Dan Branch, University of Warwick
William Crawley, ICwS
Kiran Hassan, SOAS
Kayode Samuel
Nupur Basu

Kindly sponsored by SAS, the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust, The Round Table and Asian Affairs

Registration Fee: Standard – £40, Concessions – £15

Further Information: Speaker BiosConference Outline

Call for papers: Critical Research in Information Law

Deadline 15 March 2017

The Information Law Group at the University of Sussex is pleased to announce its annual PhD and Work in Progress Workshop on 3 May 2017. The workshop, chaired by Professor Chris Marsden, will provide doctoral students with an opportunity to discuss current research and receive feedback from senior scholars in a highly focused, informal environment. The event will be held in conjunction with the Work in Progress Workshop on digital intermediary law.

We encourage original contributions critically approaching current information law and policy issues, with particular attention on the peculiarities of information law as a field of research. Topics of interest include:

  • internet intermediary liability
  • net neutrality and media regulation
  • surveillance and data regulation
  • 3D printing
  • the EU General Data Protection Regulation
  • blockchain technology
  • algorithmic/AI/robotic regulation
  • Platform neutrality, ‘fake news’ and ‘anti-extremism’ policy.

How to apply: Please send an abstract of 500 words and brief biographical information to Dr Nicolo Zingales  by 15 March 2017. Applicants will be informed by 30 March 2017 if selected. Submission of draft papers by selected applicants is encouraged, but not required.

Logistics: 11am-1pm 3 May in the Moot Room, Freeman Building, University of Sussex.

Afternoon Workshop: all PhD attendees are registered to attend the afternoon workshop 2pm-5.30pm F22 without charge (programme here).

Financial Support: Information Law Group can repay economy class rail fares within the UK. Please inform the organizers if you need financial assistance.

Trump is right: stories will dry up if the press can’t use anonymous sources

By Judith Townend, University of Sussex and Richard Danbury, De Montfort University

Donald Trump has declared war on anonymous sources and wants to ban their use by journalists. In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on February 24, he said: “You will see stories dry up like you have never seen before.” The Conversation

He’s right. If such a restriction is imposed then stories would dry up. He is very wrong to demand it though. Such a restriction on journalism would have devastating effects for democracy and the flow of information in the public interest, as courts have repeatedly recognised.

But in his first few weeks as president, Trump has shown himself to be no friend to press freedom. Hours after his CPAC speech, the White House barred several news organisations, including the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others from an off-camera press briefing, or “gaggle” conducted by press secretary Sean Spicer. Additionally, he announced that he will not attend the White House correspondents’ dinner in April. Building relationships with the press is not a priority for this new administration.

Banning the use of confidential sources denies a core principle reflected in media ethics codes from around the world and flies in the face of the First Amendment to the United States constitution and rights to free speech. Protecting journalists’ confidential sources is deemed essential to freedom of expression, public interest journalism and holding power to account. It is held as sacred, to be interpreted rigidly – even in the face of criminal prosecution. Continue reading

ILPC launches new report: ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’

front-page-snippet-download-the-reportThe emergence of an everyday digital culture and the increasing use of legal instruments by state actors to collect and access communications data has led to growing concern about the protection of journalistic sources and whistleblowers.

With the support of Guardian News and Media, the Information Law and Policy Centre has published a new report to consider these developments entitled ‘Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age’. The report is open access and available for download.

Authored by Dr Judith Townend and Dr Richard Danbury, the report analyses how technological advances expose journalists and their sources to interference by state actors, corporate entities or individuals.

The report also looks at how journalists can reduce threats to whistleblowing; examines the rights and responsibilities of journalists, whistleblowers and lawmakers; and makes a number of positive recommendations for policymakers, journalists, NGOs and researchers.

The report’s findings are based on discussions with 25 investigative journalists, representatives from relevant NGOs and media organisations, media lawyers and specialist researchers in September 2016.

Protecting Sources and Whistleblowers in a Digital Age was officially launched on 22 February 2017 at the House of Lords.

Alongside the report, the Information Policy Law and Policy Centre has also published a range of open access resources on journalistic sources and whistleblowing which are available here.

Implementing Leveson, how the national newspaper groups use the local press as “human shields” – Hugh Tomlinson QC

In this guest post, Hugh Tomlinson QC, Chair of Hacked Off, considers the press’s response to the Government’s consultation on the implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – a significant component in the Leveson system of press regulation.   

nottingham-postThe local press has, over the past few weeks, been running an anti-Leveson campaign in response to the Government’s unfair and unbalanced consultation on the implementation of Leveson. The themes are familiar: local newspapers are the life blood of democracy, they didn’t do phone hacking but they will be financially ruined if section 40 is implemented.

The first two points are true but the third is not. The innocent and popular local press is being used by its guilty and unpopular national big brothers to defend the indefensible – as a “human shield” against proper regulation.

Let’s take the example of the response of the Nottingham Post. This is a daily newspaper with a circulation of 18,000 in Nottingham and the surrounding area. It provides a valuable service to the local community and is, indeed, essential to local democracy. But it is not a plucky little independent paper struggling to survive. It is owned by Trinity Mirror, a profitable newspaper group with an annual turnover of around £200 million.

It should be remembered that although there are over 1,000 distinct daily and weekly newspapers in the UK, five publishers own 80% of these titles. In other words, the typical local newspaper is not a struggling small business, but part of a larger media corporation. Many of these local newspaper owning groups are profitable, despite the severe pressures on the local press resulting from the decline in classified advertising.

Back to the Nottingham Post. This local newspaper – along with all the others owned by Trinity Mirror – has refused to submit itself to independent regulation but, instead, has joined the body created by the national newspapers, IPSO. This has, of course, not carried out meaningful regulation of any kind.

So why will the Nottingham Post not join an independent regulator? After all, it is something that opinion poll evidence shows is overwhelming favoured by the public.

The Nottingham Post gives its readers two reasons.

First, it says that if it had to sign up to a recognised regulator such as Impress it would be forced to

“commit to a potentially expensive compulsory arbitration process They could well have to find thousands of pounds to contest every case heard, as complainants queued up to cash in on minor errors when a swift apology would suffice”.

So, it is said, “potentially” a local newspaper “could well” face additional expenditure under the arbitration system offered by Impress to readers. This is, of course, not an argument available to the big national newspaper groups. An arbitration system would save them large sums in court costs – their concern is not low cost arbitration but avoiding independent and effective regulation.

The local press is being used to advance an argument against section 40 to shield the national press from the full operation of the balanced Leveson for audited self-regulation. But the argument does not work, even for the local press. There are four reasons for this:

  • As the use of the word “potentially” shows, there is no evidence whatever that the arbitration process will be expensive for the local press. The claim is pure scaremongering. Of the 140 IPSO complaints brought against local newspapers over the past 2 years only 14 could even theoretically give rise to a legal claim – at most there are likely to be a handful of arbitration claims against the local press. Bad claims would be weeded out by the arbitrator at an early stage. The likely additional cost to local newspapers would be negligible.
  • The suggestion that “minor errors” would give rise to arbitration claims is a deliberate misrepresentation – an arbitration claim can only be brought if there is a legal “cause of action” such as defamation or privacy. “Minor errors” do not give rise to legal claims.
  • Arbitration is cheap. That is its most obvious virtue. At Impress a claimant will pay less than £100, while a newspaper’s costs need not rise above a few thousand – a tiny fraction of court costs.
  • The Royal Charter contains specific provision to protect local newspapers against even the costs of arbitration – where they have been caused serious financial harm the PRP can allow a recognised regulator to proceed on the basis that that the local and regional press need not participate in the arbitration system. This provision was inserted into the Royal Charter specifically to assist the local press – but they never mention it.

Second it is said, that IPSO has refused to seek recognition by the PRP

“for the simple reason that it believes it would be submitting to state regulation”.

This is nonsense. The PRP is not a “regulator” at all – it is simply a body that audits regulators to determine whether they come up to proper standards. Seeking recognition from the PRP is not, in any sense, “submitting to state regulation”. What is more, the national press (who control IPSO) have no principled objection to “state recognition”. As Lord Justice Leveson pointed out, the Irish Press Council is underpinned by statute and has “been accepted without demur” by the leading UK newspaper publishers, including Trinity Mirror. There is no “objection of principle”

The Nottingham Post, dancing to the tune of its Trinity Mirror masters, has no proper arguments against the implementation of section 40. Although the Post did not engage in phone hacking and the wholesale abuse of victims, its ultimate owners did. The Post is one of many local and regional papers acting as “human shields” – providing the excuses to justify a last-ditch attempt by the national newspaper groups to avoid participating in a proper system of regulation.

Hugh Tomlinson QC is the Chair of Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press which is urging supporters to respond to the Leveson implementation consultation.

This post first appeared on the Inforrm blog. It does not represent the views of the Information Law and Policy Centre or the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. 

Information Law and Policy Centre Annual Lecture and Workshop

An afternoon workshop and evening lecture to be given by leading information and data protection lawyer Rosemary Jay.

Restricted and Redacted: Where now for human rights and digital information control?

The Information Law and Policy Centre is delighted to announce that bookings are now open for its annual workshop and lecture on Wednesday 9th November 2016, this year supported by Bloomsbury’s Communications Law journal.

For both events, attendance will be free of charge thanks to the support of the IALS and our sponsor, although registration will be required as places are limited.

To register for the afternoon workshop please visit this Eventbrite page.

To register for the evening lecture please visit this Eventbrite Page.

Please note that for administrative purposes you will need to book separate tickets for the afternoon and evening events if you would like to come to both events.

AFTERNOON WORKSHOP/SEMINAR 
11am – 5pm (lunch and refreshments provided)

For the afternoon part of this event we have an excellent set of presentations lined up that consider information law and policy in the context of human rights. Speakers will offer an original perspective on the way in which information and data interact with legal rights and principles relating to free expression, privacy, data protection, reputation, copyright, national security, anti-discrimination and open justice.

We will be considering topics such as internet intermediary liability, investigatory and surveillance powers, media regulation, freedom of information, the EU General Data Protection Regulation, whistleblower protection, and ‘anti-extremism’ policy. The full programme will be released in October.

EVENING LECTURE BY ROSEMARY JAY, HUNTON & WILLIAMS
6pm-7.30pm (followed by reception)

The afternoon workshop will be followed by a keynote lecture to be given by Rosemary Jay, senior consultant attorney at Hunton & Williams and author of Sweet & Maxwell’s Data Protection Law & Practice. Continue reading

Addressing the challenge of anonymous sources in the digital age

Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals, research assistant at the Information Law and Policy Centre, reports from the launch of a new book by Eric Barendt, Emeritus Professor of Media Law at UCL, on anonymous speech in the context of literature, law and politics.

On 28 June, Professor Eric Barendt launched his new book ‘Anonymous Speech: Literature, Law and Politics’ at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS). His book critically examines the arguments for and against anonymity, which in the context of online communications draw attention to complex and important moral and legal questions.

It is on this basis that Barendt started outlining the pros and cons of anonymous speech, both online as well as offline: on the one hand, the use of pseudonyms has enabled great writers such as Jane Austen to publish anonymously and to have their privacy protected on the grounds of gender and socio-economic class considerations. Furthermore, anonymity allows writers to have their work considered solely on the basis of its merits rather than the additional ‘baggage’ that comes with being an established writer.

On the other hand, however, anonymity can be used to deceive audiences or inflict harm. Barendt stressed that anonymity on the Internet can encourage more socially disinhibited behaviour leading to hate speech, threats of rape and violence as well as cyberbullying.

Continue reading

Whistleblowers and journalists in the digital age

Snowden

Dr Aljosha Karim Schapals, research assistant at the Information Law and Policy Centre, reports on a research workshop hosted by the University of Cardiff on Digital Citizenship and the ‘Surveillance Society’.

A workshop led by researchers at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC) on 27th June in London shared the findings of an 18 month ESRC funded research project examining the relationships between the state, the media and citizens in the wake of the Snowden revelations of 2013.

It was the concluding event of a number of conferences, seminars and workshops organised by the five principal researchers: Dr Arne Hintz (Cardiff), Dr Lina Dencik (Cardiff), Prof Karin Wahl-Jorgensen (Cardiff), Prof Ian Brown (Oxford) and Dr Michael Rogers (TU Delft).

Broadly speaking, the Digital Citizenship and the ‘Surveillance Society’ (DCSS) project has investigated the nature, opportunities and challenges of digital citizenship in light of US and UK governmental surveillance as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Touching on more general themes such as freedom of expression, data privacy and civic transparency, the project aligns with the research activities of the Information Law and Policy Centre, which include developing work on journalism and whistleblower protection, and discussions and analysis of the Investigatory Powers Bill. Continue reading

Workshop summary: Evaluating legal responses to threats to news in a digital environment

On the 3rd November 2015, a workshop was held at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) in London, to discuss potential legal responses to threats to the production of news in a digital environment. Particular attention was paid to copyright.

The workshop was an output of a two-year study funded by the AHRC, entitled ‘Appraising Potential Legal Responses to Threats to the Production of News in a Digital Environment’.

The co-Principal Investigators in the study are Professors Lionel Bently of Cambridge University and Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University. The Research Associate is Dr Richard Danbury.

Present were academics, representatives of news publishers, and representatives of digital information businesses.

On the basis of the discussions that unfolded during the workshop, Richard Danbury has now compiled a report. This can be downloaded in PDF format at this link below.

R Danbury – Public Summary of London Workshop