Law for Journalists Conference 2005 Review

Terror reporting could land journalists in jail

Terrorism Bill could criminalise journalists investigating terrorism activities

Journalists
investigating terrorism could fall foul of terror legislation and face
imprisonment even if they had no intent to break the law.

This
was the warning given by BBC head of programme legal advice, Valerie
Nazareth, at the Law for Journalists Conference 2005 in London on
Friday.

She said journalists should be cautious of paying
suspected terrorists for interviews because, under the Terrorism Act
2000, an offence is committed if money is provided that will be “used
for the purposes of terrorism”.

Perhaps more worryingly for
journalists, Nazareth pointed out that under the Act an offence is
committed if a journalist finds out that someone has been funding
terrorism and does not inform the police immediately. She said that
this must be done “as soon as reasonably practicable” and that Act says
failure to do so is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Nazareth
warned that under the 2000 Act journalists could also face five years
in jail if they have information that could secure the apprehension of
someone involved in terrorism and they do not give it to the police “as
soon as reasonably practicable”.

Under the proposed Terrorism
Bill, currently going through Parliament, journalists face up to 10
years’ imprisonment if they are present at a terrorism training camp.

Nazareth
said: “This criminalises journalists merely for being in a particular
place,” and added: “This is legislation that will limit investigation
into groups or individuals about which there is real public interest.”

She
revealed that the BBC had raised its concerns about the legislation to
Home Office junior minister Hazel Blears, who replied in a letter: “We
see no reason why people who attend terrorist training camps in full
knowledge of what’s going on should escape the law.”

■ “Until you
stop the burning, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we
will not stop this fight – we are in a war and I am a soldier.”

Liberty
director Shami Chakrabarti began her speech at the conference by
quoting extensively from the video statement made by 7 July London
bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan. She pointed out that under the terms of
the Terrorism Bill, such “encouragement”

of terrorism could be against the law.

Chakrabarti
said: “Shutting down free speech is a disaster… how will we challenge
these ideas if we shut down public discourse?”

Despite
widespread press support for the bill, she refused to criticise the
media, saying: “It’s too easy to blame the press for stories we don’t
like – the answer to bad press is probably more press.

“I’m more cross with politicians and police than I ever am with the media.

I didn’t elect the editor of the Daily Mail, but I elected our political leaders.”

 

 

Speak out on access to trial material

Director
of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald has urged journalists who are
still facing problems getting access to trial material – such as
pictures of convicted criminals – to speak out.

Their views will
then be fed into a review of the new joint protocol – agreed last month
by the Crown Prosecution Service, police and press – which says police
and prosecutors should have a “presumption in favour of disclosure”
when considering requests by the press for material.

Paul
Durrant, assistant editor of the Eastern Daily Press, told the
conference his paper was facing difficulties obtaining pictures of
convicted criminals despite the new protocol.

“A legal hurdle seems to be that there is a public interest test and we are already running into problems.”

Macdonald
pointed out that the protocol clearly stated that prosecution material
used in court that should normally be released to the media included
custody photographs of the defendants.

“We are doing what we can,
talking with our people. ACPO [The Association of Chief Police
Officers] should be doing the same with the police. You should take it
up with local police, then ACPO and feed it into the review.”

The
review is monitoring how the new protocol is working in its first six
months. Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell, who helped
to broker the protocol, told Press Gazette: “We need examples of both
good and bad practice for the review.”

Macdonald revealed that he
had been shocked by one media request for a tape of a rape victim
pleading with their attacker. The request was refused.

But he
welcomed the publication of performance data about the Crown
Prosecution Service across the country published in The Times. It
followed a request by freelance Heather Brooke, who specialises in
freedom of information.

“We provided her with everything she
asked for within 13 days. She received a mass of spreadsheets, data and
figures, providing The Times with many pages of reporting and comment,”

said Macdonald.

“So
I believe that the work we carried out this year on our joint protocol
on the release of prosecution material was not just window dressing. It
demonstrates a real change in the relationship between the Crown
Prosecution Service and the media.”

■ Macdonald said he was yet
to make up his mind about the televising of trials. He said he would
have no difficulty with the Court of Appeal being filmed, judges
passing sentence or legal arguments.

However, he was concerned that cameras in court would intimidate witnesses and also affect jurors.

 

 

Charity pledge could influence jury in setting libel damages

The
jurors who awarded £250,000 damages against The Times because the
newspaper branded a football club chairman “shabby” may have been moved
to do so because they knew the cash would go to charity.

This was
the view of Desmond Browne, QC, speaking about the November libel trial
payout to Southampton Football Club chairman Rupert Lowe, who sued over
a comment piece about his decision to suspend club manager Dave Jones.
The payout set a new modern record for libel damages.

Browne
speculated that the damages total could have been limited if the judge
had been asked to give the jury a firm bracket within which to set
their total.

He advised lawyers: “Don’t allow the jury to know a
claimant’s intention to give the money to charity. In crossexamination
it emerged this is just what Mr Lowe was going to do.

“The jury
may have felt they could put their hands in Mr Murdoch’s pocket and
give straight to charity. It is not a result that I think will be
repeated.”

 

 

QC: contempt charges now less likely

Government
law officers are showing a greater reluctance to bring contempt
proceedings against the media, Jonathan Caplan, QC, told the conference.

He
said there was a growing acceptance that jurors were “robust and
independently minded” and that in the age of the internet it was a
“Canute-like fantasy” to think juries could be completely protected.

But he warned the changing atmosphere was “not a licence to publish anything you like”.

Caplan noted that the newspaper that headlined the capture of the failed London bombers as “Got the bastards”

had
not been prosecuted. However, the Daily Star faced proceedings after
identifying two Premiership footballers involved in a rape
investigation.

Caplan said in the first case law officers had
taken a “long-term view” over the possible impact on the case. In the
second, the paper had disregarded the warnings. He said the lesson was
“a prosecution must not be compromised and guidance needs to be
respected”.

Caplan said court orders relevant to the media should
be filed centrally on the internet. The conference heard that PA had
suggested such a service but met “granite-like” resistance.

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