Press Association legal editor Mike Dodd is co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists with Mark Hanna. The 21st edition was published by Oxford University Press this month.
Journalism and journalists appear to be under unrelenting attack following the phone-hacking scandal and a series of cases involving claims, mostly by celebrities, about alleged invasions of their privacy.
Many politicians seem not merely ready but positively keen to legislate to rein in what they see as the excesses of an uncontrolled press – although those same politicians protest loudly against any attempt to suggest that they should also be answerable for their standards and behaviour.
The result is that journalism, and the world in which it operates, is in a state of flux, as are the relationships between journalists and politicians, the police, and almost all other public bodies.
This was why co-author Mark Hanna and I decided that the latest edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists – the 21st – would start with the rapidly changing landscape of law, regulation, and ethics.
The Leveson Inquiry into press standards had started work by the time we were working on the final draft of the book, and it was clear that regulation and ethical standards would be at the forefront of media law issues for some time – as they still are.
Other changes were also in the pipeline. The Coalition Government has legislated to give anonymity to teachers accused of abusing or assaulting pupils in their care – a reform which has not as yet been brought into force – and a Defamation Bill, finally unveiled after the Queen’s Speech at the start of May, was widely expected.
But while major change was coming, smaller changes also continued in many other elements of the media law landscape, with the continuing battle between journalists and the courts over the use and occasional mis-use of reporting restrictions, the campaign by local authorities to curtail rights under freedom of information legislation, and the continuing development of the law of privacy.
The aim with the 21st edition was to try to reduce the size of the book, which many critics felt was becoming somewhat unwieldy, while at the same time getting more information in.
Fortunately, technology, in the form of the internet and the website which accompanies the book, came to our rescue, allowing us to put certain material on the website.
The website also means that we are able constantly to update the material to reflect latest developments, such as the recent decision of the Supreme Court upholding the Reynolds’ defence of responsible journalism in the public interest in the case of Flood v Times Newspapers Ltd.
The possible downside from the authors’ point of view, of course, is that work on new material for the website is never-ending.
However, we did not sign up for an easy time – and Mark and I are both well aware that we now shoulder the responsibility for ensuring that the book which became known as the media law Bible for journalists stays in pole position.