The rich shouldn’t have the power to silence the press: The Mail leads the charge to protect free speech as the rich use data laws and privacy claims to muzzle the media
- MPs urged to reform privacy laws that allow the wealthy to dodge scrutiny
- The Mail, Times and Telegraph have sent proposals to the government
- Data protection law ‘is used to suppress legitimate requests’, they said
Ministers have been urged to halt Britain’s drift towards privacy laws that help the rich and powerful evade scrutiny.
There are fears that free speech will be undermined by judges who increasingly prioritize privacy over the public’s right to know.
Russian oligarchs and others with secrets to hide have been allowed to exploit their wealth to abuse laws that were never intended to clamp down on good journalism, the media has warned.
Today, the Daily Mail’s publisher, Associated Newspapers, along with the publishers of The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the i newspaper, submitted proposals to reform the law for government consultation.
For example, data protection law – intended to control companies that process customer data – is used to suppress legitimate journalistic investigations, they said.
Last year, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab pledged to overhaul the Human Rights Act to include “correcting” the balance between free speech and privacy.
Reform of this law would bring Britain in line with other advanced democracies such as Sweden, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, where journalism is exempt from data protection legislation. Last year Justice Secretary Dominic Raab pledged to revise the Human Rights Act to include ‘correcting’ the balance between free speech and privacy .
He said at the time: “We have, in this country, a tradition that emphasizes and prioritizes free speech and open debate.”
Mr Raab added that MPs should make laws, but there had been “judge-made privacy laws that we have seen develop in this country in recent years”.
In response to his department’s consultation, media organizations called for journalism to be given more protections. They warned in a written response submitted last week: “The importance of a free, diverse and curious press has only increased in the age of online misinformation.”
They said the growing tendency of judges to prioritize privacy over freedom of expression had been “a serious concern for the media”, adding: “It is noteworthy that the issue has recently also come to the fore. of public debate, with concerns raised in Parliament about how individuals with vast resources are able to use the Publication Act as a weapon to stifle inquiry and debate on matters of public interest.
After last month’s invasion of Ukraine, Tory MP Bob Seely told the House of Commons that Russian oligarchs who were ‘Putin’s henchmen’ had teamed up ‘with amoral lawyers’ from the Kingdom United to end the review. One of the publishers’ proposals is that any claim of harm should not include reputational damage.
Currently, the law allows the wealthy and powerful to invoke their privacy rights to prevent the publication of information that could damage their reputation, even if proven.
Instead, judges would be forced to consider the benefit to the general public of maintaining free and engaging media – as well as the public interest of the story in question.
There are also calls for journalism to be given greater protection under data protection law.
Media groups say it is used to try to obtain information about investigations and sources, and to hog journalists’ time and resources. Recognized news publishers should be exempt when the data is used for journalistic purposes, according to the proposals.
Yesterday, Sayra Tekin, Legal Director of the News Media Association, said: “The review of the Human Rights Act represents an important opportunity to strengthen the right to freedom of expression and, in particular, to protect freedom of press.”
Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “As the consultation recognises, freedom of expression is a unique and precious freedom on which the UK has historically placed significant emphasis.” However, in recent years we have seen this freedom significantly undermined by judges increasingly prioritizing privacy over the public’s right to know.
Only last month, the Supreme Court confirmed that it would normally be illegal to identify those arrested but not yet charged, on the grounds that it would violate their right to privacy.
The move could deter victims or witnesses from coming forward and heightens fears in the wake of recent Scotland Yard scandals that police may act without proper scrutiny.
DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Misuse of privacy laws
For too long, British judges have allowed the rich and powerful to use privacy laws to escape legitimate scrutiny.
Under the Human Rights Act, judges are expected to balance privacy and the public’s right to know. But too often, oligarchs and others with secrets use the courts to suppress legitimate journalistic investigations.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has pledged to redress the balance, and publishers of the Mail, Times, Telegraph and i newspapers have now put proposals through a consultation process.
Primarily, they recommend that judges be compelled to consider the general public interest in a free media, as well as the public interest in the specific story at issue.
They are also calling for journalism to be exempt from data protection law, such as in Germany, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand.
This legislation was intended to control companies processing customers’ personal data, not to stifle journalistic efforts.
Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a free society. Judges must always remember that this is a right, not a privilege.