‘Unacceptable’: UK 40th for Global Press Freedom Thanks to ‘Heavy-Handed’ Tories

AP Photo
The Associated Press

The UK is wallowing at number 40 out of 180 countries on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, between Trinidad and Tobago and Burkina Faso, amid a “climate of hostility towards the media”.

According to the list, published Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the UK is now “one of the worst-ranked countries in Western Europe in terms of respect for press freedom”.

Increasingly harsh state regulation and persistent online and social media campaigns against journalists were cited.

The UK has plummeted by 18 places since the index began in 2002, when it was ranked 22nd, and 12 places since the publication of the Leverson inquiry into phone hacking six years ago.

Britain fell an extra two places last year amid threats to press freedom from the Investigatory Powers Act, known as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’, the Espionage Act, and Section 40, which was pushed by Leveson.

This year, the ranking slams the “continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security)”.

It refers to the Espionage Act again, which makes it easier for journalists to be imprisoned as spies for receiving leaked information.

The index goes on to once more highlight the enforcement of the Investigatory Powers Act, which hinders journalists’ ability to protect confidential sources if police and the security services insist on identifying them.

It also notes that of the 67 countries to be involved in the publication of the so-called Panama Papers, the UK is the only one where news outlets have been taken to court for alleged breach of confidence.

And the Tory Home Secretary has also repeatedly threatened to crack down on encryption tools such as WhatsApp and Telegram and announced plans to criminalise the viewing of “extremist” content.

Moving on to online campaigns, the index mentions the case of BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, who was assigned a security detail at last year’s Labour Party conference following threats from far-left activists.

Rebecca Vincent, UK bureau director of RSF, said that Britain’s place ranking, unchanged from last year, was embarrassing.

“This is unacceptable for a country that plays an important international standard-setting role when it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she commented.

“We must examine the longer-term trend of worrying moves to restrict press freedom.”

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