Freedom of the press: CIoJ backs press exemption in new Online Safety Bill

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has welcomed the UK Government's commitment to prevent professional journalists from being wrongly prosecuted as a result of new criminal offences being created by the Online Safety Bill.

Chris Philp, Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, has announced there will be a press exemption within the general harm-based communications offence and the knowingly false communications offence.

But Institute President Professor Tim Crook warns: "We have long memories and remember how assurances about journalists not being subject to new communications laws do turn out to be hollow in the end."

Professor Crook praised industry bodies for persuading the Law Commission, Parliament and Government to do their best to balance protecting people from the terrible damage of hateful social media messaging with freedom of expression and, also, of the need for an exemption for professional media/journalism services.

However, he pointed out how good intentions and homilies about media freedom have not been effective in the past.

Crook cited the 1981 Contempt of Court Act. Politicians said it was to improve journalistic freedom but it created a disaster in gagging court orders and widespread secret justice.

Politicians said the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act would never be used against journalists. It has on many occasions.

Likewise, politicians said the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act was all about policing the intelligence world and would never be used against journalists. Instead, it gave the green light for secret state phone-hacking of journalists and their sources that continues with the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act.

He added: "The CIoJ is grateful and optimistic but also wary. No doubt our media lawyers will sometime soon be defending journalists for the new harm-based, false communications and threatening communications offences."

He concluded: "We sincerely hope the journalism exemption will be more of a help than a hindrance.

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