UK press freedom record marred by FOI restrictions, the detention of Julian Assange, and threats to the safety of journalists in Northern Ireland
Despite the UK government’s stated commitment to defending global media freedom, domestic restrictions remained cause for concern. A secret government unit appeared to serve as a clearing house for freedom of information requests, and critical media outlets found themselves blacklisted or facing other restrictions. Critical reporting on the government’s Covid-19 response was met with vindictive official reactions.
The detention of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange particularly blighted the UK’s press freedom record. Assange’s extradition proceedings were marred by extensive barriers to open justice. Despite deciding against the US extradition request in January 2021, the court denied Assange’s bail application. Assange’s mental and physical health remain at high risk in Belmarsh prison, where Covid-19 infections have been rampant.
Two years after the killing of journalist Lyra McKee, journalists covering paramilitary activity and organised crime in Northern Ireland remain at serious risk, with death threats frequently reported. The man charged with McKee’s murder was released on bail in July 2020 and has not yet been brought to trial. In November 2020, the Police Service of Northern Ireland was ordered to pay £875,000 in damages to journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, following their inappropriate arrest and the seizure of their journalistic materials in 2018.
The establishment of the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists in July 2020 and publication of a National Action Plan in March 2021 were welcome steps. Robust implementation of the Action Plan will be crucial towards establishing a climate in which journalists can work safely and without fear throughout the UK - both online and offline.
35 in 2020
22.93 in 2020