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Journalists to get new legal protection

Culture secretary Sajid Javid brought the Society of Editors 2014 conference to a close by promising new legal protection for journalists and the free press.

In a barnstorming defence of press freedoms which delighted the audience in Southampton, the Tory minister hit out at the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to identify journalists sources and pledged to ensure it was not abused in future.

He also attacked European judges over the so-called ‘Right to be Forgotten’ ruling which he branded ‘censorship by the back door.’

And he promised that a majority Conservative government after the next election would enact a new Bill of Rights which will include specific protection for journalists and a free press.

Mr Javid also called on the BBC to come up with “ambitious and innovative ideas to enrich local journalism,” suggesting it should consider paying local newspapers to use their content.

And he insisted that the government “has absolutely no intention of imposing any form of state-controlled regulation of the press.”

Here are some key extracts from his speech.


“The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is being used in a manner for which it was never intended.

“The right to keep sources anonymous is the bedrock of investigative journalism.

“Without it, you cannot do your jobs. Without it, the corrupt and the crooked sleep easier in their beds.

“It’s a sacrosanct principle and one that the authorities need a damn good reason to interfere with.

“RIPA was passed to help with the fight against serious criminal wrongdoing.

“Not to impede fair and legitimate journalism, no matter how awkward that journalism may be for police officers and local councils.

“The legislation should never be used to spy on reporters and whistle-blowers who are going about their lawful, vital, business.

“I know Theresa May is doing what she can to stop this happening.

“As the Secretary of State responsible for the media, I’ll be making sure the Home Office knows just how important this issue is for the industry.

“And I’ll be watching closely to ensure the Act is not misused in future.

On the right to be forgotten:
“Of course, RIPA is not the only threat currently facing Britain’s journalists.

“Since Luxembourg’s unelected judges created the so-called “right to be forgotten”, Google has been receiving a demand for deletion every 90 seconds.

“Each day, a thousand requests pour in from people who, for one reason or another, would prefer their pasts to be kept secret.

“Criminals are having their convictions airbrushed from history even if they have since committed other, similar crimes.

“Terrorists have ordered Google to cover up stories about their trials.

“The search engine’s own lawyer has warned of unscrupulous companies abusing the system so that links to their competitors are hidden.

“The “right to be forgotten”  is censorship by the back door.

“Stories are not being deleted from archives because of the ruling, but if they cannot be found by the search engines they may as well not be there at all.”

On plans for a new Bill of Rights:

“If we receive a majority at the next election, a Conservative government will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and deliver a new British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

“Passed in our Parliament and rooted in our values it will restore British judges as the ultimate arbiters of British justice.

“And today I’m delighted to announce that I have agreed with the Justice Secretary that the British Bill of Rights will include specific protection for journalists and a free press.

“The Human Rights Act and the European courts have not done enough to protect journalists who play such a unique role in our society.

“Our British Bill of Rights will change that.

“The way some people and organisations have used RIPA and the European courts represent a direct assault on press freedom.”

On local newspapers:

“Local newspapers have long played a vital role in British life.

“They’re a crucial, trusted part of our democracy.

“They do a huge amount of good work in their communities.

“And they have proved to be a fantastic training ground for generations of reporters in the national press.

“My constituency, Bromsgrove, is privileged to be served by two excellent papers, the Advertiser and the Standard.

“It’s hard to imagine life in the town without them.

“And right now, papers like these have a more important role than ever.

“This government is working hard to give power back to the people of Britain.

“In everything from planning to education, we believe that big decisions should be made by the communities they affect, not by bureaucrats in Whitehall.

“As decision-making becomes more localised, so the need for local press scrutiny increases too.

“Yet far from being strengthened by this devolution of power, regional reporters have found themselves under attack from the very people they are trying to hold to account.

“Local authorities have every right to communicate with their taxpayers. They have no business getting involved in the newspaper industry.

“But across the country, the rise of the “Town-hall Pravdas” under the Labour Government threatened to pull the advertising rug out from under dozens of genuine publishers with unfair, state-funded competition.

“This government is not prepared to stand by and let that happen.

“My colleague Eric Pickles has strengthened the law on local government publicity rules, slashing the number of these pointless publications.

“His department is currently fighting to finish off the final few hold-outs.

“He has also introduced new legal rights for the press and public to report and film council meetings with digital media.

But the law’s remit only extends to England.

“Town halls in Labour-run Wales are still wasting a million pounds of taxpayers’ money on propaganda sheets every year. And how did that figure come to light?

“Thanks to a series of FoI requests put in by hard-working regional journalists!

“Meanwhile, bloggers and journalists in Wales have even been arrested and handcuffed for trying to tweet or film council meetings.

“As Lord Black said recently, “If we value democracy then we have to value a commercially successful free press”.

“We can’t have one without the other, and that applies on the local stage as much as the national.”

On copyright and whether the BBC should pay for local news:

“The explosive growth of the internet has created many challenges for newspaper publishers.

“However, it has also brought with it incredible opportunities.

“Two of the world’s most successful digital newspapers are both UK-based.

“But if you’re going to invest in world-class content, you have to know that it’s going to be properly protected by an appropriate and enforceable copyright regime.

“I’ve been very clear about this government’s determination to protect the music industry from online infringement.

“That applies to the written word too.

“Quality journalism costs money, and we cannot allow it to be copied and pasted into oblivion.

“Fair use, yes, but not a free-for-all.

“I’m sure many of you would say that this problem isn’t confined to content-scrapers and unscrupulous publishers.

“Some point fingers at the BBC, accusing it of over-relying on news broken by local papers.

Adrian Jeakings has even suggested that the Corporation should pay for stories that originate in the regional press.

“Part of the problem is that newspapers and broadcasters now find themselves competing on a whole new playing field.

“For decades, the BBC and its commercial rivals dealt only in television and radio, while editors such as yourselves were concerned solely with words on newsprint. 

“But as news moves online, local newspapers with five or even four-figure circulations have found themselves going head to head with one of the world’s biggest broadcasters.

“In Bromsgrove, The Advertiser and the Standard are now competing for readers with BBC Hereford & Worcester.

“Not viewers, not listeners, but readers.

“This summer Ofcom reported that almost 60 per cent of online news consumers use the BBC website or app, with Sky News trailing behind on just 17 per cent.

“The lead is even greater on mobile devices, where BBC News has 14.5 million unique users, compared to just 4.2 million for second-placed Sky News.

“The highest-ranked newspaper, the Mail, is third with 3.4 million.

“This digital dominance looks set to be cemented as this generation grows up.

“Most adults aged under 24 already head to the internet – rather than TV, radio or print – for their fix of news.

“And that may present some serious problems for regional publications, particularly as local news junkies are increasingly searching for content online.

“As with so many of the changes brought about by the internet, it raises a lot of questions.

“Is it healthy for a publicly funded broadcaster to compete with commercial newspapers?

“Should the BBC share its local public service content under a creative commons licence?

“I want the BBC to come forward with ambitious, innovative ideas that enrich and support sectors like local journalism.”

On press regulation:

“Unethical or inaccurate reporting should be policed not by the state but by an industry-led regulatory system.

“A system that ensures standards are upheld, complaints are heard, and there is proper redress for those who have been wronged.

“All of us – friends and critics of the industry alike – could see that the Press Complaints Commission was no longer delivering such a system.

“But let me be very clear.  This government has absolutely no intention of imposing any form of state-controlled regulation of the press.

“No government ever should. The process must be industry-led, with no opportunity for politicians, present or future, to interfere with legitimate journalistic practice.

“As the Prime Minister said, doing otherwise would cross the Rubicon, putting at risk our centuries-old tradition of free expression.”

“So I have no time for those who seek to dismiss Fleet Street’s finest as corrupt criminals who should be regulated out of existence by an overbearing state.

“Britain’s newspapers remain the best in the world. A vital bulwark against wrongdoing. A voice for the voiceless. The very foundation upon which our democracy stands.

“And when I’m asked if their work should be hindered and restricted by meddling bureaucrats and politicians who wouldn’t know a spike from a stone sub, my answer is very simple.

“Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.”


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  • November 11, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Blimey! Almost wants you to vote Tory. But well said, Javid.

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  • November 11, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Yeah, yeah, blah, blah. Give me your lovely votes!

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  • November 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    BBC to pay local papers for using news? No, I’d rather collect my lineage.

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