As global jailed journalists total reaches new high - will 2013 be the year UK joins China, Turkey and Iran at top of the list?

A shocking statistic today from the Committee to Protect Journalists which reveals that a record number of journalists are currently in prison around the world.

The tally of 232 compares with 175 in 2011 and 145 in 2010.

But how's about this for an even more shocking thought? If something like two thirds of the 50-odd UK journalists arrested in the wake of the hacking scandal end up going to prison – this would put Britain somewhere between China and Iran in next year's list.

If Turkey sees sense and releases the many mainly Kurdish journalists currently facing anti-terror charges, then the UK could perhaps even go to near top of the list. Number two is Iran with 45 journalists in prison and number three is China with 32.

British journalists are mainly facing charges of phone-hacking, computer hacking and bribing public officials. 

Beyond drawing their salaries, there is no evidence that I've seen that any of the UK journalists involved enriched themselves personally by what they did. They broke the rules to find stories.

Actions which would put the UK near the top of this grim table cannot be a proportionate response to invasions of privacy and the indiscriminant payment of tip-fees (some apparently lavish) for news stories and information. The latter was apparently common industry practice, sanctioned by the top in very hierarchical organisations and not discussed by industry regulator the Press Complaints Commission.

As Sun investigations editor Brian Flynn warned last month, the recent spate of arrests has already had a massive chilling effect on jourrnalism. Public sector whistleblowers who want compensation for taking the risk of talking to journalists are now being ignored.

Aside from the further chilling effect a wave of jail sentences for journalists would have on UK freedom of expression, it would do terrible damage to the UK's standing abroad and send out a horrendous message to corrrupt regimes around the world.

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