ICE blogs

April 29, 2011

Concern over intimidation of top journalist and professor

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 8:09 am

A group of prominent US academics and journalists have expressed concern about what they claim is ‘a retaliatory campaign’ by law enforcement authorities and Northwestern University, Chicago, against long-time investigative journalist and Professor David Protess.

Professor Protess has established a national reputation at Northwestern University by working with journalism students on investigations that have resulted in the release of a dozen innocent men from death row or long prison terms. His work and writings have inspired many to become investigative journalists and to the creation of innocence projects in their own communities.

The controversy began two years ago when the Cook County prosecutor began an unprecedented effort to obtain the notes, grades and emails of Professor Protess’s students, who worked on the case of a man who appears to have been unjustly convicted.

Now Professor Protess’s methods and honesty have been questioned not only by prosecutors, but by his employer, Northwestern University, and its attorneys. Earlier this month, in a highly unusual proceeding the University presented its case against Professor Protess to a closed session of the journalism faculty. Professor Protess was barred from the meeting, denying him an opportunity to confront the accusations. Then the university issued a press release making public the serious allegations against him, quickly adding that it would not comment any further.

Tarnished and isolated, Protess has been the subject of news reports and leaks that further damaged his reputation. In response, he has asked for an independent investigation into the allegations against him as well as the conduct of all those involved.

The academics and journalists call on colleagues, especially those covering the news media, to join in investigating what is happening at Northwestern University. They also ask university officials to present themselves in a public session to explain their actions, and to answer questions on why they have endangered one of the premier investigative reporting projects in the country.

- Contact: Brant Houston, brant.houston@gmail.com; David Cay Johnston, davidcay@me.com; Lowell Bergman, lowellbergman@berkeley.edu; Mark Feldstein, feldy@gwu.edu.

December 8, 2010

Hounding of Wikileaks condemned

Reporters Without Borders, the press freedom campaigning organisation, has condemned the blocking, cyber-attacks and political pressure being directed at cablegate.wikileaks.org, the website dedicated to the US diplomatic cables. RWB is also concerned by some of the extreme comments made by American authorities concerning WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

After publishing several hundred of the 250,000 cables it says it has in its possession, WikiLeaks had to move its site from its servers in Sweden to servers in the United States controlled by online retailer Amazon. Amazon quickly came under pressure to stop hosting WikiLeaks from the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and its chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, in particular.

Ousted from Amazon, WikiLeaks found a refuge for part of its content with the French internet company OVH. But French digital economy minister Eric Besson said the French government was looking at ways to ban hosting of the site. WikiLeaks was also recently dropped by its domain name provider EveryDNS. Meanwhile, several countries well known for their disregard of freedom of expression and information, including Thailand and China, have blocked access to cablegate.wikileaks.org.

Reporters Without Borders commented: ‘This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency. We are shocked to find countries such as France and the United States suddenly bringing their policies on freedom of expression into line with those of China. We point out that in France and the United States, it is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed.’

Earlier, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the political backlash being mounted against WikiLeaks and accused the US of attacking free speech after it put pressure on the website’s host server to shut down the site.

‘It is unacceptable to try to deny people the right to know,’ said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. ‘These revelations may be embarrassing in their detail, but they also expose corruption and double-dealing in public life that is worthy of public scrutiny. The response of the United States is desperate and dangerous because it goes against fundamental principles of free speech and democracy.’

The IFJ is also concerned about the welfare and well-being of Assange (who was arrested on 7 December on sex charges and later refused bail) and Bradley Manning, the United States soldier in Iraq who is under arrest and suspected of leaking the information.

- See: http://www.ifj.org/en/articles/ifj-condemns-united-states-desperate-and-dangerous-backlash-over-wikileaks

July 4, 2010

The media’s crucial role in the anti-racism campaign

Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, highlighted the role of the media in promoting multi-culturalism at the opening session of the conference “Learning to live in a multi-cultural world”, organised by Initiatives of Change, at Caux, Switzerland, 2 July 2010

Why are we here in at this amazing Mountain House, in Caux? Well. We all live in multi-cultural societies and we all have multi-cultural blood running through our veins. My family, for instance, can trace its roots back to Australia, Scotland and Ireland. My partner of 39 years is French. Our son, after spending two years teaching in Japan, is now a researcher at Murdoch University in Australia. The mother of his partner there is Greek, her late father Irish. In this context notions of racial, cultural, national purity are nonsense. We should celebrate our multi-cultural heritance.

And yet ethnic violence, crude nationalism and racism (often fuelled by underlying economic grievances) are globally on the rise. Most recently minority Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan have fallen victim to appalling violence.

In the UK, despite all the rhetoric about multi-culturalism over recent decades, evidence suggests a backlash is underway. Just take a look at the members of the new Con-Dem coalition government: the majority are Oxbridge educated, white and male. Eighteen of them are millionaires. Some 7 per cent of Britons go to private schools and yet a recent report concluded that some 54 per cent of top journalists in the UK went to private schools. 45 per cent went to Oxbridge. So much for cultural, class diversity!

Commentators on the coverage of the election by the major broadcasting companies also remarked on how again most of the reporters were white and male. Indeed, a recent report funded by the UK government and compiled by the charity Business in the Community found that some of the best-paid professions such as the media, law, banking and politics were seen by ethnics as subtly hostile or openly racist towards ethnic minorities. More than one-fifth of ethnic minority people in employment have heard racially offensive comments at work.

How the media can stoke hatred and ignorance
We are here because we know that the role of the media in all of this is vast - for instance, it can stoke xenophobia, stereotypes, hatred and ignorance. The controversy which exploded across the world following the publishing of the Mohamed cartoons in a Danish newspaper (resulting in more than a hundred deaths) served also to highlight the enormous responsibility of all journalists - and the complexity of the issues relating to freedom of expression, respect for difference and so on.

In the UK, the mainstream media too often perpetuate damning stereotypes about asylum seekers. A study by Article 19, the international organisation campaigning against censorship, of six daily newspapers found widespread use of such labels as “bogus asylum seekers”, “asylum cheats”, “scroungers” and “parasites”. In many of the reports the immigrants were dehumanised; the Mail, for instance, referred to a consignment of immigrants. Asylum seekers were often painted as criminals and threats to public health - as supposed importers of AIDS with words such as “exodus”, “flood”, “swamp”, “deluge”, “mass influx” fuelling fears. Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University and Guardian media commentator, concluded: “In papers which pride themselves on their ability to tell human interest stories, human interest stories about people fleeing torture, oppression and gross poverty have been entirely absent.” Analysis of television coverage by Cardiff University School of Journalism found similar stereotyping.

At a more subtle level, cultural prejudice (which can confine black Africa to the margins of media coverage) can seriously distort new values - and mean that incredible stories of progressive political and journalistic action are marginalised. And so we must work to change those news values, sourcing conventions and practical routines that perpetuate stereotypes and exclude solution-oriented reporting.

Take, for instance, Liberia. Following mainstream media reporting, you may associate that country with child soldiers, the hacking of limbs by the combatants in the recent brutal civil war there. And yet Liberia has been the site of a little reported and yet extraordinary peace and peace journalism movement.

Extraordinary movement for peace - missed by the Western media
Let me explain: A peace movement called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace played a crucial role in the ending of hostilities in Monrovia. Organised by social worker Leymah Gbowee, thousands of Christian and Muslim women staged silent protests and forced a meeting with President Charles Taylor and extracted a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. Gbowee then led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process. They staged a sit in outside the Presidential Palace, blocking all the doors and windows and preventing anyone from leaving the peace talks without a resolution. In other words, the women of Liberia became a powerful political force against violence and against their government.
Their actions helped bring about an agreement during the stalled peace talks. As a result, the women were able to achieve peace in Liberia after a 14-year civil war and later helped bring to power the country’s first female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Since her election, unprecedented numbers of women have assumed leadership positions. Women comprise 17 per cent of the Senate, 12.5 per cent in the House of Representatives, 31 per cent among junior and senior ministers and 33 per cent among local government officials. Today, there are around 200 women’s organisations throughout Liberia and a series of regionally broadcast radio programmes have recently prominent women leaders in various fields.
These radio programmes have been used to foster dialogue among women’s groups about topics of particular importance to women, including health, education, and peace building and have provided networking opportunities for women interested in contesting elections. And since its formation by a group of Liberian journalists interested in sustaining peace, democracy, human rights, free expression and development in their country the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building has helped sustain these peace moves through the provision of training and research for the media in peace building, advocacy and development.
All these remarkable achievements are happening largely away from the glare of the western media.
Moreover, in western Europe the promotion of multi-culturalism and human rights is more often rhetoric than reality. Human rights, for instance, were evoked scandalously to legitimise the “war on terror” and the illegal war in Iraq in 2003 - with all its terrible consequences: the abuse of prisoners, the massacres of civilians, the creation of millions of refugees, the impoverishment of whole nations, the extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects to Guantanamo Bay and secret prisons - where they have been tortured - or disappeared. In the UK, black and Asian people have been seriously discriminated against by the police in anti-terrorism strategies - with blacks now seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. More than 310,000 black and Asian people were searched on the streets in 2008/09, the figures rising more than 70 per cent over the last five years.

We might even say there is an excess of morality of one kind in the media and the dominant political culture in general. The mainstream media are forever swamped in predictable media moral panics: over declining media standards, over violent video games, irresponsible parents, rowdy students, football hooligans and so on. And each week some one or some group is damned as “evil”.

Crucial role of progressive journalists within the mainstream
How do we confront these issues? How do we theorise our strategies? Well, clearly we should not exclude activities within the mainstream. While its closeness to dominant financial, military and ideological forces means that the professionalised mass media in advanced capitalist countries function largely to promote the interests of the political/industrial/political complex, at the same time the contradictions and complexities of corporate media do provide spaces for progressive journalism. The careers of journalists such as Martha Gellhorn, Nicholas Tomalin, John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Arundhati Roy, Naomi Klein are proof enough. In this context the work of organisations such as the International Communications Forum, PressWise and the Media Diversity Institute are crucial - working for changes from within the professional sector.

Indeed, we are also here because while we know the media too often promote dangerous cultural stereotypes, in many parts of the world the media are part of the solution - assisting in conflict resolution, encouraging understanding between races and cultures, campaigning for positive changes.

In Media Values, the book I have just edited, drawing together the writing of 27 journalists and artists inspired by the ICF founder Bill Porter, Fabrice Boulé describes the programme he has developed promoting the journalism of peace and reconciliation in the Great Lakes Area of Africa. Even in the Congo, where a little reported civil conflict has caused more deaths than any other conflict since 1945, journalists are working together to promote peace.

There are many other examples of practical moves by journalists to promote civil harmony and progressive peace. In Germany the Peace Counts projects brings together a network of international journalists to work in trouble spots - such as in the Ivory Coast - inspiring journalists to work for reconciliation.

Just recently in the UK, the Guardian revealed that 216 CCTV cameras had been installed by the police in two predominantly Muslim though relatively crime-free neighbourhoods of Birmingham. As a result of the newspaper’s investigations which prompted local protests, the cameras were de-activated.

But professionalism is not enough. Professions are best seen as historically-located and class based social groupings which seek to regulate market conditions in their favour by restricting access. Significantly research suggests that only around 2 per cent of journalists in the UK are black, Asian or Arab compared to a national minority population of 5.26 per cent. Moreover, professionalism tends to stress the individual conscience, an apolitical stance and the importance of following codes of conduct to transform the mainstream media. All of these approaches need to be confronted.

Indeed, we need to redefine journalism as political practice. And by applying a political analysis of the media and journalistic activity we will be able to highlight the crucial roles of collective trade union action within the mainstream and of alternative media in the formation of a progressive, multi-racial, multi-cultural public sphere.

Let me give a few international examples of progressive collective action by journalists in the mainstream:

Between 1999 and 2001 the media worked alongside other civil society organisations in protests against President Estrada in the Philippines culminating in what became known as the Second People’s Power Revolution. In 2001 all-women teams at the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism produced a series of television reports exposing government corruption that gained massive publicity and were considered as crucial in helping inspire the mass non-violent protests, in part sparked by Estrada fuelling of civil discord in his brutal clampdown on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Closer to home in the UK, during 2003 and 2004 Daily Express journalists in London passed the following motion:

This chapel is concerned that Express journalists are coming under pressure to write anti-Gypsy articles. We call for a letter to be sent to the press Complaints Commission, the leading regulatory body in the UK set up by the Thatcher government in the early 1990s) reminding it of the need to protect journalists who are unwilling to write racist articles which are contrary to the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct.

Call for conscience clause rejected by PCC
They asked the PCC to insert conscience clause in its code whereby journalists who refused unethical assignments would be protected from disciplinary action or dismissal. This would be surely an important element of any campaign to promote higher standards in the mainstream media. But the PCC, being too much the voice of vested media interests, predictably refused.

During the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004 about 40 journalists from all TV channels announced that they were being compelled to lie on air and promised not to do so in future. - these activities culminated three months of campaigning.

In 2006 journalists on the German Berliner Zeitung newspaper refused to produce a normal edition of the paper in protest at the appointment of a new editor since they were concerned their proprietor planned to “sacrifice journalistic quality and high standards for the sake of short-term money-making ambitions” As Tony Harcup comments: “Without a collective voice and collective confidence, control of the ethics of journalism will remain largely in the hands of editors and proprietors with individual journalists being left with little choice but to do what they are told or resign. Journalistic ethics cannot be divorced from everyday economic reality such as understaffing, job insecurity, casualised labour, bullying and unconstrained management prerogative.”

Considering further collective action it’s important to acknowledge the work of media trade unions in promoting anti-racist struggles. In the UK, the National Union of Journalists has a range of guidelines on handling issues relating to multi-culturalism and the coverage of overtly racist groups - and highlights many of these activities in its publication: The Journalist. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists likewise constantly speaks out over the oppression of progressive journalists around the world and the dumbing down of standards as proprietors focus obsessively on profits and ratings. And the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, which brings together trade union progressives, leftist political activists and academics, similarly works in many imaginative ways to support anti-racist campaigns.

Intriguingly, the ideologies of professionalism and the linked notion of “objectivity” have served largely to exclude alternative, campaigning, social media even from the definition of “journalism”. Thus it’s important to extend the definition of journalism beyond the mainstream to incorporate the vital role of alternative media.

Firstly there’s the much under-valued anti-racist media: In Britain there’s the magazine of the organisation Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, there’s the excellent Race and Class, published by the Institute of Race Relations and there’s Muslim News. There’s the progressive US-based website, www.blackagendareport.com and the human rights campaigning magazine New Internationalist.

Then there are all the newspapers, magazines, newsletters, community radio and television stations which specifically target ethnic minority groups in the UK. A list produced by the Commission for Racial Equality carried the names of 113 such outlets. And yet these media are hardly ever considered by conferences such as this, by the mainstream media in their handling of contemporary journalism - nor rarely feature in academic research.

Important role of “citizen journalists”
Finally, I want to consider the controversial role of the new “citizen journalists” in the promotion of multiculturalism. Many professionals, predictably, see the new journalists as upstarts threatening their privileges and unconstrained by any adherence to any credible codes of conduct. I take the opposite view. The best citizen journalists are providing a necessary critique of professional standards. For instance, the media monitoring website medialens based in the UK is subjecting the mainstream media to a constant and extremely well informed critique from a radical, Chomskyite perspective.

Moreover, too much of the conventional debate over multi-culturalism and anti-racism focuses on the journalist as professional producer and the audience as a passive consumer of a professional product. Rather we need to view the audience as producers of their own (written or visual) media. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 proclaims, in effect, the right to journalism since it stresses that everyone has the right not only to seek and receive but to “impart” (in other words communicate) information and ideas.

So let’s celebrate blogs such as tomdispatch.com and the website www.the-latest.com (edited by the black campaigning journalist Marc Wadsworth) for highlighting important issues and carrying out investigations ignored by the mainstream.

There are many journalisms today and more may well sprout in future years - in the struggle against racism we need to tap the special potentials of all of them.

March 4, 2010

Venables injunction ‘an alarming gag on the press’

Filed under: Blogroll, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 3:56 pm


Barry Turner, senior lecturer in media law at the University of Lincoln, argues that the worldwide injunction on the reporting of one of Jamie Bulger’s killers represents an extraordinary attack on the freedom of the press

In an article on AOL news (3 March 2010) it was reported that one of the killers of Jamie Bulger has been returned to prison for breaches of his parole licence. Jon Venables had allegedly repeatedly breached the terms of his release from prison.


The case is important for all reporters in that a phenomenon known as the injunction contra mundum was employed upon Venables’ release from prison preventing the media from either reporting his whereabouts or the new identity given to protect him from revenge attacks. This ‘worldwide injunction’ purports to prevent the publication of any story, anywhere in the world that would either identify Venables or identify where he is now living.


In a conversation with a spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), I was told that it makes a mockery of our courts if a journalist can report a story prohibited in the UK to a foreign newspaper that may then be read here. The MoJ spokesperson then said that it did not, of course, have the jurisdiction to prosecute a foreign journalist. However, if a foreign newspaper published such a story, the MoJ would investigate how they acquired the information and if it was found to have come from a British journalists or news agency then they would prosecute them. It might, of course, be possible for the MoJ to employ the foreign courts to use a domestic injunction forcing the disclosure of sources.


The concept that a British court can extend its jurisdiction in this way to effectively gag the foreign press is an alarming one. Concepts of freedom of speech vary widely between different jurisdictions and Britain already has a number of laws constraining the ‘free press’. It is rather odd that we should impose our ideas as to what can and cannot be reported on other countries with quite different and sometimes constitutionally protected freedoms of the press.


The concept of a ‘worldwide injunction’ is not only contrary to common sense in that our courts have no legal right to impose reporting restrictions on foreign newspapers but it fundamentally defeats the object for which the law of equity introduced the injunction in the first place.

The rationale of the MoJ is understandable. It does not like to see the authority of our courts undermined. The rationale behind hiding Jon Venables is also clear. Despicable he may be but we always place rights to life above freedom of expression. That does not make it any more comfortable to hear ministers arrogantly announcing that the world may not be told this story. The press has an essential role to play in monitoring the justice system and it is quite right that the public has a right to know of the activities of a murderer released on licence.The ‘worldwide injunction’ is an example of neo colonialism and further threatens the freedom of the press.

How would our Justice Minister and our Home Secretary respond to Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, obtaining an injunction in a Harare court injuncting the worlds press from calling him a criminal and a despot? Would our courts be prepared to allow an injunction requiring identification of all of those in Zimbabwe who were giving stories to the British media? Of course not! But then again, we are civilised aren’t we?

October 22, 2009

Freedom of expression under threat from ’super-injunctions’

Filed under: Blogroll, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 6:05 pm


Legal expert Barry Turner argues that the recent spate of ’super-injunctions’ are unlawful since they are contemptuous of parliament and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights


The media has in recent weeks complained of a use of injunctions not only to prevent publication of controversial stories but to stifle the very discussion of the injunction itself.


Applications made to the courts by zealous and perceived powerful defamation and ‘privacy’ lawyers have been granted by judges who seem to have forgotten the very nature of the relationship between the press and the courts and who have, more disturbingly, forgotten that an injunction is an equitable remedy and not a legal right.


The recent action against the Guardian to stifle reports about the oil company, Trafigura, and the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast in 2006, went well beyond any idea of protecting the applicant’s privacy and equitable interests. The lawyers for the claimant, Carter-Ruck, were not only seeking to prevent adverse commentaries on the company’s activities but sought to injunct any kind of debate about it in parliament.


The injunction is a well-established and commonly used legal tool to prevent an individual suffering a wrong and to prevent a wrongdoer from evading responsibilities. Properly used in the spirit of the English legal system’s concept of equity, it is a remedy to be applauded. When used in less than good faith it represents a fundamental threat to freedom of expression that should not be tolerated in a pluralist democracy.


The injunction is an equitable remedy. Equity is a cornerstone of English law enabling judges to apply the law in a fair and ‘equitable’ manner. It is a centuries-old tradition that has served those who seek redress in the courts well. The reason it is such an invaluable tool is because it is discretionary and need not slavishly follow the more rigid legal rules that apply in our legal system. The ’super-injunction’, which aims to stifle entire debate, is in clear violation of the spirit of equity and of judicial discretion.


A judge granting a ’super-injunction’ is, in fact, breaking the rules of equity themselves. The House of Lords - in American Cyanamid v Ethicon 1975 - made clear that the injunction, as an equitable remedy, can only be used when there is a cause of action, a triable case. In another pivotal decision on injunctions, the Master of the Rolls from 1982 to 1992, Sir John Donaldson, declared that the court may disregard fanciful claims. A claim that a national newspaper may not discuss questions in parliament regarding an injunction is about as fanciful as it gets.


The rules of equity in the main mitigate against the granting of injunctions. Great drafts of the common law on both equity and freedom of expression urge caution on judges before granting an injunction. The ’super-injunction’ is an invention of imaginative lawyers and judges who have forgotten the very basics of the law of equity.


‘Super-injunctions’ defy legal maxims enshrined since time immemorial (natural justice). Super injunctions deny the supremacy of parliament. They deny the authority of statute and treaty (the European Convention on Human Rights, Article10; the Human Rights Act 1998 Section.12); they defy absolute privilege; they abuse the purpose of the sub judice rule. They are unlawful!

April 26, 2009

$10M lawsuit over New Yorker article on Papua New Guinea ‘feud murders’

Filed under: News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 12:06 am

Radio New Zealand International reports on a lawsuit launched by a PNG man against the New Yorker magazine for 10 million US dollars over a portrayal of him and his tribesmen as ‘murderers, thieves and rapists’.

In an April 2008 New Yorker story titled ‘Vengeance Is Ours,’ Pulitzer Prize-winning geology scholar Jared Diamond describes feuds that rage for decades among tribes in PNG’s Highlands.
In the story a Handa tribesman Daniel Wemp is depicted as having led the slaughter of 47 people and the theft of 300 pigs.

However a complaint filed in New York state’s supreme court seeks 10 million US dollars from publisher Advance Publications, claiming the story falsely accused Daniel Wemp of ’serious criminal activity’ and ‘murder’.

US academic Rhonda Roland Shearer interviewed 40 PNG anthropologists to fact-check Diamond’s story, and says Jared Diamond got the story wrong.

It’s just unacceptable that anthropologists or other professionals come in, collect stories and then go home and say what they want at their expense. I think it was very powerful and empowering that papua New Guineans could see on the front page of the national newspaper that Diamon is being asked to be held accountable for saying these things that are untrue about tribespeople.

More on this at the Stinky Journalism blog.

March 18, 2009

a newspaper and its wartime past

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, politics, conflict, human rights, new books — news_editor @ 9:26 pm

The German newspaper publisher, M. DuMont Schauberg, has published a history of its Nazi past. According to Deutsche Welle (via EJC media news), this is the first such historical reappraisal by a German newspaper group. The consequences of the loss of independence were clearly more severe within 1930s-40s Germany than many other places, but I wonder how many other media groups will be willing to follow its lead. History belongs to the victors, but maybe not their own history. I’ve not seen accounts from within the BBC, for example, of its promotion of colonialism, and the official Reuters history doesn’t search very deep either.

February 27, 2009

One more nail in the coffin of investigative reporting

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 1:51 pm

The new anti-terrorism Act adds a further threat to investigative reporting, according to legal expert Barry Turner

The Counter Terrorism Act 2008, which came into effect in February 2009, poses new and serious threats to investigative journalism. This law is, in part, designed to prevent terrorists from gathering information about possible targets with Section 76 making it an offence to elicit, publish or communicate any information which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

This, in itself, is an amendment to Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, originally introduced to counteract actual terrorist intelligence gathering, but broadens its scope to threaten to anyone conducting investigations into military or police matters. This legislation is aimed not only at IRA-style intelligence gathering but at anyone who obtains information that terrorists could potentially use. One of the most alarming features of the new Act is that there appears to be an apparent reverse burden of proof requiring any investigative reporter to ‘prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action’. Don’t reach for public interest: it is already well established that national security trumps that one.

The legislation is particularly alarming in that there is no need for there to be any intention to aid terrorists, only that such eliciting or publishing may be ‘useful to them’. This could, of course, be research material gathered in advance of publication or the finished article or programme. Significantly, the law requires only an ability (and not a desire) on the part of potential terrorists to use the information.

Commentators have already noted the broad scope of any interpretation of this law especially as it might apply to street photography. Over the last few years there have been increasing reports of police officers demanding that press photographers and film crews cease taking shots of officers performing their duties. The Public Order Acts have for many years provided the police with powers to control ‘nuisance’ photographers but this new Act goes much further. There is little doubt that officers can now use this legislation to demand memory cards and other video image recordings on the grounds that ‘they may be useful to terrorists’.

The requirement on the defence to prove there was a reasonable excuse flies in the face of the centuries-old criminal law tradition where the burden of proof lies on the accuser. Moreover, for information to be legally elicited or published permission needs to be sought in advance. Journalists investigating bullying or brutality in the armed forces or corruption in the police force, for instance, will now need to let the forces know in advance that such a programme or article is being planned. Failure to seek these permissions will lead to accusations of covertly eliciting material about serving or former military personnel or serving police officers that ‘could be useful to terrorists’. There is little evidence that the police, military or security services have ever considered investigative reporting about themselves to be reasonable.

When Mark Daly completed his undercover Panorama investigation, The secret policeman, into racism in the police in 2003, their initial reaction was to try to prosecute him, not the racists he uncovered. A similar BBC documentary on bullying in the armed forces, The undercover soldier, broadcast in September 2008, was only possible through undercover reporting. Since both documentaries, albeit inadvertently, disclosed material that would be useful to a terrorist anyone considering this type of investigation today needs to be very wary indeed of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008.

February 12, 2009

Fiji and parachute journalism

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, politics, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 11:08 pm

Those in the northern hemisphere won’t have heard much about the latest coup in Fiji and the complex racialised politics involved. What you will hear most of, though, is the interim (i.e. military) government’s crackdown on journalists. This week there was a rare, good discussion of the whiteness of the lenses through which the issue is seen in the west on TVNZ. Summary and analysis of it on the Pacific Media Centre blog by Thakur Ranjit Singh.

February 9, 2009

Filipino journalists fear for their safety

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 8:59 pm

A fairly grim BBC report on the targeting of journalists in the Philippines, which independent journalists there blame on the failure of democratic institutions. The journalist deaths are, it seems, part of a larger pattern of killings of those who challenge powerful interests at various levels.

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