The whole journalism industry played its part in campaign to protect sources from police spying - Press Gazette

The whole journalism industry played its part in campaign to protect sources from police spying

News that the Government is to rush through legal curbs on police viewing journalists’ call records is a victory for the whole journalism industry.

At a time when the fallout from the hacking scandal continues to cast a shadow over British journalism we have managed to persuade both the public and politicians of the importance of the role journalists play in society and democracy.

Actor and supporter of Hacked Off Hugh Grant was mistaken when he downplayed the role of the industry in this campaign on Radio 4 this morning.

Hacked Off (and particularly associate director Evan Harris) deserves credit for drafting the Lib Dem legal amendment which helped bounce the Government into action.

But the whole journalism industry has played its part in a rare show of unanimity.

If journalists had let this go and allowed the police to continue to view our phone records in order to identify confidential sources we might as well have given up on the idea of press freedom in the UK.

Press Gazette has sought to play its part in this fight with the Save Our Sources campaign, launched on 11 September.

The following are among those who, in my opinion, particularly deserve credit for their role in this victory:

  • The 1,700+ individuals, including journalists from all parts of the industry, who signed the Save Our Sources petition
  • The 100 editors, including those of every Fleet Street national newspaper, who signed a joint letter of protest on this issue. And the many who wrote powerful editorials 
  • Both the National Union of Journalists and the Society of Editors which have worked hard on this issue (including much behind the scenes lobbying)
  • Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats (including Hacked Off's Evan Harris) for championing this issue in Parliament
  • The news organisations that have given coverage to this issue and particularly The Mail on Sunday – for giving it front-page treatment and getting it firmly on the Government’s agenda – and The Times for revealing that Kent Police had used RIPA against the MoS.

Press Gazette has published well over 100 articles on this issue over the last five months, but here are the main points in the timeline:

2 September

Press Gazette reveals how Met Police used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to secretly access the phone records of The Sun newsdesk and the paper’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn.

8 September

The Times, The Sun, Independent and Telegraph all publish hard-hitting editorials on the issue.

11 September

Press Gazette Save Our Sources campaign launched with petition on directed at the Office of the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

17 September

Surrey Police Commissioner Kevin Hurley backs Save Our Sources campaign.

1 October

Times reveals that Kent Police had also used RIPA against journalists not under suspicion of breaking the law in order to find their lawful sources. This time the news editor and a freelance working for The Mail on Sunday.

5 October

The Mail on Sunday devotes its front page to the story and also writes a hard-hitting editorial.

Writing in the paper, Keith Vaz MP says he will call in the Interception of Communications Commissioner for questioning and describes the legislation as “no longer fit for purpose”.

6 October

Thanks largely to associate director of Hacked Off Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats adopt the Save Our Sources campaign as official party policy.

6 October

The Interception of Communications Commissioner's Office announces an inquiry into police use of RIPA in order to find journalists’ sources over the previous three years.

Head of IOCCO office Joanna Cavan acknowledged the role of Press Gazette campaign which had “helped to highlight public concerns”. By this stage more than 1,000 had signed the Save Our Sources petition.

7 October

Press Gazette FoI requests against every police force in the country asking them about use of RIPA against journalists are rejected.

8 October

More editorials condemning police use of RIPA to find journalists’ sources. This time in The Guardian, Independent and Times.

10 October

Press Gazette reveals that Suffolk Police used RIPA to secretly access the phone records of Ipswich Star reporter Mark Bulstrode in order to find the police officer who told him a rape investigation was being re-opened.

12 October

The Home Office tells The Mail on Sunday that measures could be in place before Christmas to stop police forces spying on the phone records of law-abiding journalists.

14 October

Press Gazette reveals that Thames Valley Police used RIPA when it bugged a car in order to eavesdrop on the conversation of local newspaper journalist Sally Murrer.

30 October

Press Gazette reveals that UK police forces had conducted 300 investigations into leaks to the media in a three-year period. Our suspicion is that many of these will have involved RIPA phone records grabs of journalists.

6 November

Press Gazette presents 1,250-signature petition to Office of the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

28 November

Press Gazette reveals that Cleveland Police had also apparently used RIPA to find a journalistic source.

29 November

A legal amendment brought by Lib Dem Peer Lord Strasburger, which would provide judicial oversight of police use of RIPA against journalists, is rejected by the Government in the House of Lords.

10 December

Home Office publishes a revised code on use of RIPA (promised by Home Office to Mail on Sunday in October).

Press Gazette warns that the new code is effectively a licence for police to continue accessing journalists’ phone records at will.

19 January

Around 100 editors, including every UK national newspaper editor, sign a joint letter of protest condemning the inadequate new RIPA code in a move jointly organised by Press Gazette and the Society of Editors.

21 January

Times, Mail and Telegraph ramp up the pressure on Home Secretary Theresa May with strongly-worded editorials about RIPA.

3 February

'Vexatious', 'annoying' and 'disruptive' Press Gazette barred by Met from asking more RIPA questions via the Freedom of Information Act.

4 February

The IOCCO report is published and reveals police use of RIPA to secretly find journalists’ call records is as widespread as we feared with some 82 journalists targeted over three years.

IOCCO says judicial oversight is needed to curb police use of RIPA – the central demand of the Save Our Sources campaign

Prime Minister David Cameron accepts that he law needs to be changed, but Downing Street briefs that action unlikely before the May general election.

11 February

The Liberal Democrats table an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill providing the judicial oversight of RIPA that has been called for.

The legislation is drafted by Evan Harris and Hugh Tomlinson QC who are both leading figures in Hacked Off.

20 February

To head off the planned vote on the Save Our Sources law, the Government agrees to use a statutory instrument to urgently stop police accessing journalists’ call records without judicial oversight. It promises to draft legislation before the general election on this issue.



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