The News of the World phone-hacking scandal and subsequent public inquiry raised concerns that public interest journalism could suffer from efforts to curtail unethical practices through regulation. While investigating related police leaks, Scotland Yard invoked the Official Secrets Act to pressure a journalist to reveal sources for her coverage of the scandal. Authorities ultimately backed down from the unprecedented effort. Several journalists came under attack while covering mass riots in urban areas in August. Prime Minister David Cameron said news outlets must hand over raw footage of rioters and suggested the government restrict social media tools to curb street violence. The government drafted a defamation bill aimed at reforming the U.K.'s much-criticized libel laws. The measure had yet to go through parliament.
Attacks were reported against journalists covering mass riots that erupted in August. Sky News reporter Mark Stone was chased by rioters and forced to flee during disturbances near Clapham Junction in London; BBC and Sky News reporters had to retreat when their vehicles' windows were smashed in Croydon; and rioters knocked down and kicked Michael Russell, a reporter for the Ealing Gazette, before taking his camera on Ealing Broadway. In June, photographer Niall Carson was shot and injured while covering clashes in Belfast.
No one has been brought to justice in the murder of Martin O'Hagan, an investigative journalist with the Dublin newspaper Sunday World, who was shot outside his home in the Northern Ireland town of Lurgan on September 28, 2001.
Journalists killed with impunity in the European Union since 1992:
United Kingdom: 1
The United Kingdom is one of the world's top five safe havens for journalists fleeing threats of violence, imprisonment, or harassment for their work in their home countries, CPJ research shows.
Top host countries for exiled journalists, 2001-11:
United States: 180
United Kingdom: 38
A University of Oxford study found that the average libel lawsuit costs defendants exponentially more in England than in the rest of Europe. U.K. libel laws strongly favor the plaintiff and enable a damaging practice known as “libel tourism,” the practice of shopping for a jurisdiction with laws that are advantageous for plaintiffs.
In March 2011, the Ministry of Justice published a draft libel bill that aimed to reform libel laws to better defend the public interest.
Noteworthy libel cases, as documented by the Libel
500,000 pounds: Fees The Guardian paid fighting a libel lawsuit by a South African businessman whose practices were criticized in the paper in 2007. The amount was equivalent to US $801,778. The Guardian prevailed, but recouped only a portion of its costs.
165,000 pounds: Damages awarded to an exiled Tunisian politician in a 2007 suit against the Dubai-based broadcaster Al-Arabiya. The station had accused the plaintiff of having links to Al-Qaeda. The amount was equivalent to US$264,500.
50,000 pounds: Damages a Ukraine-based news website was ordered to pay a Ukrainian businessman in 2008. The site, which had no more than a few dozen U.K. readers, had written about the businessman’s upbringing. The amount was equivalent to US$80,000.
10,000 pounds: Damages awarded to a Saudi financier in a suit against Israeli-American author Rachel Ehrenfeld. Her 2003 book had accused the plaintiff of funding terrorist groups. The amount was equivalent to US$16,000.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.