After suitably fulsome introductions we are underway, Alan Rusbridger has meandered off onto the issues of press economics. I felt for a moment that it was going to be an attack on blogging etc, but now he is off on restrictions to the freedom of the press with libel tourism. After a round up of how costly libel is for the press in this country and how the Tesco case has effected reporting on tax avoidance with numbers about how much subsequent reporting costs to get cleared by the legal team. This is going to become a true restriction on what gets reported.
We have moved on to Fatima Bhutto who is talking about *real* restrictions on press freedom, because while libel laws do stop you from continuing to publish it doesn’t give you too much fear of the knock on the door in the night. Her current points are based on new laws about ‘cyber crime’ being used out of proportion to prevent many kinds of dissent and “ant-democratic” practice, for example having a fake email account has a jail punishment attached and anti-spamming laws can be used to arrest people for sending out information to mailing lists. Censorship laws in Pakistan are being used to stop people hearing about the rule of law in parts of the country being handed over to those that wish to have a more religious bent.
Andrew Gilligan has started with the idea that the database that the government wants to put details of all our phone calls and emails in is an attack on press freedoms as no-one will come forward as an anonymous source as they will think that all contact into newspapers will be tracked. Next crack downs on whistleblowers, the only two people who have been arrested over the JCM shooting were the people who received the leak about him not wearing a heavy coat and running etc. Many other examples, that I don’t have the typing speed to note down. He has also brought up the closure of papers and economics as a press freedom issue, redundancies mean that not enough time for full investigative pieces. There is also a fine point being made that the media in the past have been as guilty of impinging on people’s liberties as defending. He is trying to claim that was just the bad old days of the red tops, I am not convinced that the tabloids are as much reformed as he does. The press has to make it’s case to the public, again with the press being better that the 80s still with not being convinced.
Nick Cohen has warned the chair she may need to lawyer him, he also thinks that their needs to be a change in how we think about rights and liberties. Apparently the judiciary cannot be relied on, that they are “establishment” now dovetailing into AR’s stuff on libel and explaining how it is about reputation. Apparently people whose reputation are already in tatters shouldn’t have access to libel because it is about reputation. Using Roman Polanski Vs Vanity fair as an example. Next example is also about libel tourism and how they are a threat to freedom of speech not just here but around the world if it can be said to have to been published here. Fabulously dodgy generalisation on which constituent groups go to which law firm. Good investigative journalism need the newspapers to back them up, the stamp of authority, bloggers will not be able to take up the mantle.
The chair has popped and is talking about extending protections such as the the Renold’s defence, including possibly setting up a statuary defence along those lines for journalism, there should be specific defences about publishing stuff about public figures in the public interest. Joanne is also suggesting that many of the current erosions of freedoms are going after journalists and sources.
Going to publish before the Q&A will do another post if that throws up good stuff.