The bill, which was tabled in the House of Commons on 6 June 2018 and is currently being scrutinised by the Public Bill Committee, contains a number of provisions that have worrying implications for press freedom and the protection of journalistic sources.
“We are alarmed by provisions of this bill that would restrict journalists’ ability to do their jobs and create a chilling effect on freedom of expression. This is particularly worrying in light of the broader trend of moves to restrict press freedom in the UK. Further, the speed at which this legislation is being pushed through is also concerning. We urge MPs to thoroughly scrutinise the bill and ensure that threatening measures are struck and sufficient protections for press freedom included”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.
In particular, RSF has highlighted concerns about Clause 1, which criminalises “reckless” expressions of opinion; Clause 2, which criminalises the publication of images of clothing; Clause 3, which criminalises the repeated viewing of vaguely defined content (a proposal RSF has previously spoken against); Clause 6, which proposes a significant increase in maximum sentences and could have a substantial chilling effect on journalism; Clause 12, which increases powers to enter and search home addresses, threatening the protection of confidential journalistic sources; and Clause 20 and Schedule 3, which create new powers of stop, search, detention, and retention and copying of material at ports and borders - again threatening the protection of journalistic sources.
RSF considers these measures unlawful, unnecessary, and disproportionate infringement of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and recommends that they are excised from the bill. The new offences created would threaten press freedom and could criminalise responsible journalists investigating and reporting on issues of public interest.
The full text of RSF’s submission is available on the Joint Committee on Human Rights website as well as via download below. The submission was compiled with research and support from Doughty Street Chambers.
The UK is ranked 40th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.