UK Languishes In World Press Freedom Index As New Section 40 Bid Launched

A fresh assault on press freedom in the form of new amendments to the Data Protection Bill has been made on the same day an influential global report highlighted the UK’s abysmal record on press freedom in recent years.

In the coming weeks, MPs will vote on amendments to the Data Protection Bill tabled on Wednesday by Lib Dem Christine Jardine aimed at bringing draconian Section 40-style costs sanctions into force, and kicking off a sweeping Leveson 2-type inquiry into data protection issues in the media.

Both the measures are fiercely opposed by the industry.

The amendments were tabled on Wednesday – the same day in which Reporters Without Borders published its annual World Press Freedom Index which cited the use of the Data Protection Bill by anti-press campaigners as one of the reasons for the UK’s low ranking on the list.   

The UK was ranked 40th in the list, its worst ever position lower than any other western European nation apart from Italy, behind countries such as South Africa, Lithuania and Trinidad & Tobago.  

It also represents a staggering decline for the UK of 18 places since the Index was first published in 2002.

RSF UK Bureau director Rebecca Vincent said: “Maintaining our ranking of 40th out of 180 countries is nothing to be proud of, and puts us in the embarrassing position of having one of the worst records on press freedom in Western Europe.

“This is unacceptable for a country that plays an important international standard-setting role when it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms. We must examine the longer-term trend of worrying moves to restrict press freedom, and hold the UK Government to account.”

RSF has highlighted a number of worrying moves against press freedom in the UK such as Law Commission proposals make it easy to jail journalists for obtaining leaked information, the Investigatory Powers Bill, and the initiation of legal proceedings against the BBC and The Guardian by law firm Appleby over the Paradise Papers stories.

Commenting on the release, the NMA said: “Although disappointing, it is not surprising that the UK languishes in 40th position out of 180 countries in the press freedom index as the UK news media industry is under threat.

“We have seen repeated attempts by the House of Lords to hijack legislation, such as the current Data Protection Bill, to enforce state-backed press regulation which would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism. This is a grave threat to press freedom and could lead to the closure of newspapers.

“We call on all politicians to protect media freedom and safeguard a vibrant press in the UK.”