Counter terrorism legislation and other new UK laws which can be used to hinder journalism

The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation’s concerns about free speech (Guardian) provide another example of how the law is being used to stifle journalism.

David Anderson said last month that Britain’s strict counter-terrorism laws affected everybody from teenage tweeters to religious campaigners, because the term "terrorism activity" was too broad.

And he added: "They make people more cautious than they need to be in what they say and what they write.

"You could look at the example of journalists and bloggers, for example, who can be considered terrorists, it seems."

He had a valid point. And it’s a broader issue, too. Over the last 20 years, journalists have been indirectly affected by an unprecedented number of laws that were introduced for entirely separate reasons.

The Bribery Act affects journalists, even though it was intended to target corporations.

The Protection from Harassment Act affects photographers, even though it was intended to target stalkers.

The Religious Hatred Act and the Equality Act can affect media publishers, even though they are intended to tackle discrimination.

And then there’s the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Coroners and Justice Act, and more than four different pieces of terrorism legislation.

Did Parliament foresee the consequences for the media when it passed all these laws? If it didn’t, it was negligent. If it did, it ducked the opportunity to include "journalistic exemptions", in the interests of free speech.

We also have enforcement agencies that are eager to use any legislation they can find to hinder journalists doing their jobs.

This all represents a trend that violates press freedom. And the media has no constitutional protection.

We could, of course, use our adaptable and flexible unwritten constitution to provide a constitutional right to a free press, like they have in America.

Problem is, we’ve probably got a law against that, too.

Cleland Thom is a trainer and consultant in media law

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