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November 1, 2015

Concerns over EU move to curtail freedom of expression

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 6:39 pm

Proposals to be considered next month by the European Parliament requiring privately owned companies to act as censors of content ruled to be extremist have been condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists as posing serious threats to freedom of expression.

The proposals appeared in a resolution adopted on October 20 by the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the Parliament and due to be submitted for a plenary vote in November.

These developments in the EU tie in with similar initiatives in the UK, which risk undermining press freedom in the name of fighting terrorism. British police used special powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 in August to seize the laptop of Secunder Kermani, a reporter for BBC Two’s flagship news show Newsnight, The laptop carried communication between the BBC journalist and a man in Syria who publicly identified himself as an Islamic State member.

Ian Katz, editor of Newsnight, commented: ‘We are concerned that the use of the Terrorism Act to obtain communication between journalists and sources will make it very difficult for reporters to cover this issue of critical public interest.’

According to Michelle Stanistreet, general-secretary of the National Union of Journalists: ‘There are serious questions to be answered about why the order obtained by the police warranted the seizing of a journalist’s laptop – which may well have contained confidential information on other sources and other stories too. Using journalists as tools of the police in this way has a chilling effect on press freedom and hampers the ability of journalists to protect their sources and do their jobs properly and with integrity.’

And Joe McNamee, director of Brussels-based network European Digital Rights, warned: ‘If a journalist is searching on criminality or corruption, there is a chance that he/she will attract attention.’

The CPJ highlighted in its recent report on the EU and press freedom (see https://www.cpj.org/reports/2015/09/press-freedom-at-risk-europe.php) how the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters has scooped up emails to and from journalists working for some of the country’s leading media organisations. In 2013, in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations on the NSA, the Guardian was forced to destroy hard drives containing information related to the investigative report after the government threatened legal action. Also David Miranda, a Brazilian national and partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, was detained at Heathrow airport while travelling between Berlin and Rio. The High Court ruled the detention legal and proportionate, a view Miranda is due to challenge at the Court of Appeal next month.

• See https://www.cpj.org/blog/2015/10/as-police-seize-newsnight-laptop-concerns-at-reach.php

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