UK Biggest Global Source Of Legal Threats Against Journalists

The UK is the highest international source of legal threats made against journalists to chill legitimate reporting, a report published by the Foreign Policy Centre has found. 

A recent survey by the FPC of journalists working to uncover financial crime and corruption showed that the UK not only features highly in journalists’ investigations (61 per cent of respondents reported finding a link with UK jurisdictions) but is also a significant source of legal challenges against them.

The survey also showed that, of 63 survey respondents in 41 countries, 73 per cent reported receiving communications threatening legal action as a result of information they had published. The respondents showed the UK as the highest international source of these legal challenges. The FPC report stressed there was an urgent need for policy and legislative intervention in the UK.

Susan Coughtrie, project director, Foreign Policy Centre, said: “Investigative journalists uncovering financial crime and corruption are being subject to a significant amount of risks and threats, which has a chilling effect on their ability to continue to bring crucial matters of public interest to light.

“Particularly alarming is the level and frequency, as highlighted by our survey, of legal threats being sent to journalists all over the world. The UK is the highest international source of these legal challenges – almost as high as EU countries and the US combined – which points to a clear need for further review to prevent potential vexatious misuse of the UK legal system.”

The report highlights that many journalists who are working to “shine a spotlight on corruption” continue “to face significant threats to their safety and security.”

The report has made many recommendations to Government, chiefly that “free and open access for journalists to all registries related to companies, land and property in the UK, as well as to databases providing information regarding judicial decisions.”

The report stressed the importance of ensuring these services are well resourced to check the veracity of the information within the registries and to respond to requests for information.

The report also recommends that Government recognise, “the vital role that journalists play in creating transparency and accountability and connect this to Government strategies to counter financial crime and corruption facilitated within its borders,” as well as “expedite and effectively resource all other anti-corruption initiatives that improve access to information and other mechanisms to strengthen public scrutiny and oversight.”

Further recommendations include reviewing the effectiveness of whistle-blowers protections; seeking to reform legislation that can be misused to vexatiously threaten journalists; ensuring all violations against journalists in the UK are thoroughly and effectively investigated, with the perpetrators and instigators brought to justice.

Refraining from taking steps to break end-to-end encryption, which would endanger the safety and security of journalists and their sources, and establishing an independent fund to support public interest investigative journalism in the UK and abroad, including a focus on uncovering financial crime and corruption, should also be implemented.

The report also makes recommendations to national regulatory bodies covering the UK legal sector, particularly to avoid the misuse of laws for the purpose of threatening journalists, and to encourage the provision of pro-bono legal support to journalists and media outlets.