Brown should act to lift restraints on journalism

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When card-carrying NUJ member Gordon Brown takes up office in Number 10 Downing Street this month, he has one clear way he can create a point of difference with former PR man David Cameron and predecessor Tony Blair.

Through straight-talking and by putting an end to spin. This is something he has already hinted at, and it can only be hoped that Brown will also remember his roots, on Scottish Television in the early 1980s, and call a ceasefire in this Government’s often open hostility towards the press.

British journalism is already under threat like never before, because the internet is eroding much of its economic base. If Brown wants a press capable of more than live-blogging the latest episode of Big Brother, he might want to look at easing some of the constraints on serious journalism.

Like ditching the proposed Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations, which the Government has clearly signalled are aimed squarely at journalists and would greatly reduce our ability to use the Freedom of Information Act by massively increasing the number of requests thrown out on cost grounds.

He also needs to look at why the police are intimidating local newspaper journalists and locking them up in the cells as part of routine police enquiries. Milton Keynes Citizen reporter, and mum of three, Sally Murrer has had her life turned upside down after spending a night in the cells earlier this month because local cops didn’t like the fact that one of their number had apparently leaked her a story. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Government is currently reviewing the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and could make it even easier for police to seize journalists’ notebooks, computers and contact books.

A healthy body politic is impossible without good journalism and Brown would be well advised to remember that, for the sake of both his short-term popularity and the longterm public good.

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