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Greenwald case: Silence the media, compromise freedom

August 23, 2013

By Heather Blake

Editor’s note: Heather Blake is the UK director for Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) and a research associate to the Changing Character of War Programme, Oxford University. She is the rapporteur for human rights foreign policy reports on Responsibility to Protect, the U.N. Human Rights Council Review and the occupied Palestinian Territories; and is working on her fourth policy report on Kidnapping for Ransom. She also advises governments and the U.N. on human rights issues, primarily on theMiddle East and North Africa.

Heather Blake

Heather Blake

(CNN) — Over the past two years the United Kingdom’s press freedom ranking has declined.

In the 2011/2012 Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) index, the UK ranked 28th out of 179 countries, and in the 2013 index the country went down a point ranking at 29 out of 179 countries.

The UK prides itself on being a country with a long heritage of upholding the rights of individuals accompanied by a free and strong press. The UK government is a P5 member of the U.N. Security Council, a leading country in the G8, European Union, and the Commonwealth, and uses its influence to advocate for human rights to be respected globally.

Two years ago, the News of the World phone hacking scandal shook the institutional confidence of the UK media to its core. The UK’s innate belief of the right to a free and strong press betrayed the innate respect of the same national belief — the rights of individuals. The conclusions found in the Lord Judge Leveson inquiry cemented this scandal as not only unprecedented but raised the question, for the first time ever, if legislation was needed to regulate the UK press?

Much debate led to the draft Royal Charter for UK Press Self-Regulation. The draft document outlines how the UK should devise a self-regulatory body within its longstanding history of media freedom. The UK is now faced with yet another situation that has shocked the international community and shaken the country’s press freedom identity for a second time — the detention of David Miranda (assisting his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald). The Greenwald/ Miranda case, however, flies in the face of the argument of UK press self-regulation and raises great concern over terrorism laws, investigative journalism and the protection of journalists’ sources.

The question remains, however, does the UK’s press freedom ranking reflect the debate now ensuing the country on UK press regulation and now the protection of journalists sources, or is there more to the methodology of the UK ranking than meets the eye? In other words, can the UK improve its ranking?

The research is based on a two tiered system: In-house research and a questionnaire sent to press freedom experts and journalists.

RSF’s research for the UK’s 2013 ranking focused on areas of concern such as, the [then] libel laws (which had been reformed after the publication of the 2013 index), the draft Communications Data Bill, which had been rejected but is now under reconsideration and, lastly, elements of the UK anti-terror laws. Read more at CNN.


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