Reforms needed to protect journalists from legal threats

Journalist Free from legal acton
UK law firms were among the most heavily involved in legal threats to journalists outside the UK.

The way we stay informed is by reading our daily or weekly newspaper. Our expectation is for real, informed news from articulate and proficient journalists, we need protect journalists.

Politics is one grey area though, Brexit has shown us that. The information we were fed was not always factual, or the facts were cleverly disguised by talented journalists. Losing faith in what we read is a slippery slope to the death of journalist.

While some journalists write for political parties, real journalists work hard to investigate the facts and details of news that affect us all.  These journalists freedom of speech is under threat.

The freedom of press is not popular with everyone

In the UK we unconsciously enjoy the freedom of the press, which is:

The principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, should be considered a right to be exercised freely. 

Such freedom implies the absence of interference from an overreaching state; its preservation may be sought through constitutional or other legal protections.

Inspite of that, journalists are threatened, and even killed, for publishing information someone doesn’t like.

Each year, the Committee to protect Journalists releases a list of journalists killed or jail for their work.

In 2017 it was recorded that 262 journalists sent to jail with 25 recorded deaths in 2019.

Our news is under threat

The Index on Censorship says urgent reforms are needed to protect journalists from vexatious threats.

Law firms in the UK were among the most heavily involved in vexatious threats to journalists outside the UK.

The UK should make it much harder for the wealthy and powerful to use vexatious legal threats or bring libel actions designed to dim down the investigative journalism said Index on Censorship.

Index are launching a new project that aims to expose the extent to which those with wealth and influence use legal threats to shut down investigations. Despite the reform of the defamation law in 2013 to make it harder for those outside the UK to bring lawsuits, its happening.

“Defamation law was reformed in 2013 to make it harder for people who had little or no connection to the UK to bring lawsuits here,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “However, we are still seeing people and organisations with almost no UK links bringing expensive and spurious defamation cases. In addition, increasingly people are turning to privacy and data protection laws in an attempt to prevent journalists reporting on corrupt, illegal or poor practice.”


The case of Paul Radu

The UK courts will soon hear the case of Paul Radu, the investigative journalist and founder of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) being sued by Azerbaijani MP Javanshir Feyziyev, who was named in an award-winning OCCRP report exposing money-laundering.

Feyziyev does not live in the UK, although he owns property here, and most of the readers of the stories about Azerbaijan are not from the UK.

Index on Censorship has become increasingly worried about the growing use of vexatious lawsuits since it first launched a project monitoring threats to media freedom in Europe in 2013.

“News outlets find themselves receiving a letter threatening expensive proceedings unless online articles are rewritten or removed altogether, and demanding an agreement not to publish anything similar in the future. The letters often tell the recipient that they cannot even report the fact that they have received the letter,”

It is the smaller independent media companies that struggle to manage these threats as they are financially draining and can drag on for years. These smaller independent firms simply can not afford to fight, so silence is their only option.

Research into Vexatious Legal threats

At the time of her murder, Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese investigative journalist had numerous lawsuits pending, some of which were brought by UK firms.

The champion behind the new research into vexatious legal threats against journalists, Jodie Ginsberg, aims to interview journalists across Europe about the extent of these threats before making recommendations later this year.

Index will launch its research project into the use of vexatious legal threats against journalists later this month and aims to interview journalists and media organisations across Europe about the extent of these threats before a final report containing recommendations for action later in the year.


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