Society P&L work during 2023

Some of the policy, legal and campaigning work undertaken by the Society of Editors in 2023 

Police and Media Relations and guidance
Following concern expressed last year by the Society of Editors and Crime Reporters’ Association as to the presence of journalists on the ‘notifiable associations’ list of the College of Policing’s APP counter-corruption guidance, the Society has continued its dialogue with the College and held a number of meetings in a bid to have journalists removed. The College is currently redrafting the guidance and conversations are ongoing ahead of the guidance going out to consultation at a later date.

Earlier this year, the Society expressed its “deep concern” in relation to proposed changes to the APP Media Relations guidance which suggested that forces should be given the power to decide who should be named upon charge. Following widespread criticism of the proposals, the Society welcomed the decision by the College to reject calls to allow forces this discretion while highlighting the importance of open justice. 

The Society held a meeting with the College of Policing and National Police Chiefs’ Council in July 2023 to propose opportunities to work together to improve police and media relations and re-set the relationship between officers and journalists. Primary among our recommendations was a need to re-build this important relationship, an assumption of trust between officers and journalists and, critically, more routine use of background briefings in high-profile and fast-moving cases to avoid issues which arose in the investigation into Nicola Bulley but have been seen elsewhere especially in the light of social media speculation around investigations.  We formally submitted evidence to the College of Policing’s review in July 2023 and we will now look to meet with the College to discuss next steps and a review of media relations guidance now that the report’s findings and recommendations have been made public.

Nicola Bulley inquiry
The Society met with the College of Policing in early November to discuss the anticipated time-frame for the publication of the review into Lancashire Police’s handling of the Nicola Bulley investigation. The Society was sent an embargoed copy of the review and both the Executive Director and Campaigns Officer attended the press conference announcing the findings publicly. Many of the recommendations contained within the review echoed recommendations that the Society had put forward in written evidence to the review team in July 2023. This included the need for an urgent re-set in police and media relations, more openness and transparency and, critically, more routine use of background briefings to accredited journalists in high profile and fast-moving cases. As you will be aware, one of the key findings of the review was that the failure by Lancashire Police to brief the mainstream media on a non-reportable basis on Ms Bulley’s vulnerabilities at an early stage of the investigation meant that a vacuum of information allowed speculation to run unchecked and ultimately led to the force’s ‘avoidable and unnecessary’ decision to release personal information about her. The Society’s response to the review was picked up widely and, now that it has been published, we will look to meet again with the College to discuss next steps and a review of media relations guidance in light of the review’s findings and recommendations.

National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists
In co-ordination with Journalism Matters Week in late October, the government officially published its renewed National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists which included comment from the Society’s Executive Director. The new protections included in the plan will see enhanced training for police officers on the rights of journalists to report from protests, a new online portal for journalists to report abuse as well as a new industry taskforce on keeping staff safe. More information can be found here.

Media Bill and Section 40
In early November, the Society welcomed the inclusion of the Media Bill in the King’s Speech. The bill includes a commitment to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act which has long been opposed by the Society on the basis that it goes against the fundamental principle that justice must be fair and, as has been widely documented, would see published forced to pay both sides costs in defamation and privacy cases regardless or not of whether they won if they were not signed up to a Royal Charter-approved regulator.

Journalists killed in Israel and Gaza
The Society has praised journalists covering the Israel-Gaza conflict saying that many continue to put their lives at risk to report on behalf of the public. At the time of writing, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that more than 40 reporters worldwide have lost their lives since the outbreak of fighting on 7 October and the Society has called on all those involved in the conflict to respect the rights of journalists and civilians. The importance of the news media in providing accurate and verifiable news and information on the war was also reiterated at the Society of Editors Media Freedom Awards 2023 by the Executive Director as well as the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who spoke at the event.

The Society has welcomed the passage in early November of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 which, for the first time, provides legislative protections for journalists against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Although limited to economic crime, the protections are a welcome step and we will continue to call on the government to bring forward primary legislation to ensure broader protections. The Society is also involved in a new taskforce set up for the government to look at non-legislative means of tackling SLAPPs.

Journalism Matters Week
Once again, the Society helped publicise Journalism Matters Week, co-ordinated by the News Media Association, to highlight the vital role trusted news media journalism plays in our democratic society. This year, the week-long campaign ran from 30 October to 5 November and included op-eds from the Culture Secretary and Shadow Secretary as well as calls by the Sun editor Victoria Newton for the government to not bow to pressure from big tech firms in discussions around how to better regulate social media channels. The Society will look to meet with the News Media Association ahead of preparations beginning for the 2024 event to see how we could work together to highlight the work of the UK news media.

Information Rights Users Group
Following the first meeting of the Information Rights Users Group tasked with looking at the Freedom of Information Act, the Society has been in regular communication with the Cabinet Office to try to ensure that, in addition to representative groups, the group hears from journalists with direct experience of using the Act. We have also been ensured that a series of seminars will be planned to ensure that the direct experience of FOI users, which include journalists, will be heard.

Evidence in Sexual Offence Prosecutions
The Society submitted a formal response to the Law Commission’s consultation on Evidence in Sexual Offence Prosecutions which set out its concerns in relation to proposals to ban all but one member of the media from being present in court during evidence sessions involving complaints. As well as being unworkable in practice, we have expressed our alarm that such a proposal fundamentally goes against the principle of open justice and would have a devastating effect on the coverage of such cases. The Society also met with the Law Commission in early November to discuss our thoughts in more detail.

Northern Ireland anonymity laws
The Society expressed its opposition to the introduction in late September of new laws in Northern Ireland granting anonymity to suspects in sexual offence cases for 25 years after their death saying that this would have prevented reporting of allegations against Jimmy Savile in Northern Ireland. The new laws, which also prevent the media from naming people suspected of sexual offences until they are charged, comes into force after legislation was passed by Stormont in March 2022. The Society’s statement can be viewed here. It was widely picked up and included in articles in the Belfast Telegraph, The Independent and the Daily Mail.  

Schools Week injunction threat
Following an approach by Schools Week in early November, the Society outlined its concern that a consulting firm was using the threat of legal action and an injunction to prevent the newspaper from publishing details of the day rates paid to consultants who will test proposed reforms of the government’s SEND system. PA Consulting, which has a £7.6 million government contract to oversee a pilot of the changes, threatened to take out an injunction if Schools Week published the information, warning it would seek recovery of legal costs “likely run to tens of thousands of pounds”.

The Society said that at a time when there is considerable public concern over the availability of provisions for children with SEND and their families, it is beyond comprehension that the media is unable to publish information that is freely available on a government website. The article can be read here.

Consultation on NICS Recruitment Advertising
The Society responded to a consultation by the Northern Ireland Civil Service setting out its opposition to the possible removal of the requirement for the civil service to advertise jobs in NI’s three local daily newspapers – Belfast Telegraph, Irish News and News Letter. The Society highlighted the reach of local print newspapers as well as the financial difficulties that this would cause. 

National Security Act 2023
The Society worked with a number of other news organisations and campaign groups to highlight its concerns with the National Security Bill ahead of its passage. Primary among our concerns was the lack of a public interest defence for journalists and whistleblowers. During the bill’s report stage in the House of Lords, Home Office Minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom sought to reassure the industry that journalists would not be criminalised under the new legislation and that journalism which “might incidentally be capable of assisting a foreign intelligence” would not be considered a criminal offence under the new bill. The bill received royal assent in July 2023.

Public Order Act 2023
Following the arrest of LBC journalist Charlotte Lynch last year and others covering the Just Stop Oil protests, the Society welcomed the inclusion this year of an extra protection for journalists covering protests which was added to the Public Order Bill by the government. The amendment states that officers must not “exercise a police power for the sole purpose of preventing a person from observing or reporting on a protest” and was voted in ahead of the bill receiving royal assent in May 2023. The importance of the new amendment was also highlighted by the BBC’s Clive Myrie in his speech at our conference in March.

Fake newspapers
Following complaints about two political parties publishing fake newspapers ahead of the mid-Bedfordshire by-election earlier this year, the Society has once again criticised the practice.  We have also met with the fact-checking organisation Full Fact to discuss opportunities to clamp-down on fake newspapers and party-political material masquerading as independent news and information ahead of next year’s anticipated general election. The Society has previously called on all political parties to ensure that all literature is clearly marked as party political as well as ensuring that newsletters are published in line with the law in this area.

Party conference fees
Following extensive dialogue between the Conservative Party, the Society and other media representatives, the party finally agreed to drop a media charge for journalists covering its October party conference earlier this year.  The decision saw the widely opposed “accreditation fee” for media attendance scrapped and a refund given to those who had already paid. Now that the conference has taken place we will be looking to arrange a meeting with the party to feedback on attendance and discuss media attendance ahead of preparations for the 2024 event.

Open justice
Following the publication earlier this year of the Justice Committee’s report into Court Reporting in the Digital Age, the Society responded to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on Open Justice saying that both the government and the courts system can do more to support open justice. Specific proposals mentioned by the Society include the formation of a single digital portal for the media and public to access information related to court proceedings as well as a centralised database for court restrictions and the piloting of regional officers to support media access and complaints. In addition, following the monumental broadcasting of sentencing remarks from the Crown Court last year, the Society has lent its support to an extension of the recording of sentencing remarks to the magistrates’ courts.
As part of the consultation process, the Society took part in a number of meetings with the Ministry of Justice where we discussed open justice in more detail and also called for a review of openness and transparency around use of the Single Justice Procedure (SJP).

Lucy Letby case and granting anonymity to witnesses
Following the verdict in the Lucy Letby case, the Society issued a statement following requests for comments by the Telegraph and the Times on the unprecedented granting of anonymity to a large number of witnesses in the case. The Society expressed concern that the decision set a worrying precedent and that future orders for anonymity should be met with caution. The statement can be found here

World Press Freedom Day
To mark World Press Freedom Day in early May, the Society’s Executive Director released a statement highlighting the necessity of a free press in all healthy democracies as well as publishing a compilation of some of the most memorable front pages from the past 18 months as a reminder of the power of a free press to hold power to account on behalf of the public. The statement and front pages can be found here.

Evan Gershkovich and Jimmy Lai 

The Society has condemned the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporters Evan Gershkovich in Russia  calling for his immediate release and we continue to monitor his case. The Society also joined more  than 100 media leaders calling for the release of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai who has been  imprisoned in China since December 2020.  The Society was also pleased to see the UK government call for the immediate release of Jimmy Lai, describing his case as a “politically motivated prosecution” at the start of his trial in December 2023. Foreign Secretary David Cameron criticised China’s national security law saying that the government was “gravely concerned” for anyone facing prosecution under the widely-criticised law introduced in 2020.

Sir Harry Evans Journalism Summit
The Society was invited to attend the inaugural Sir Harry Evans Investigative Journalism Summit in London in May which brought together more than 200 investigative journalists and news leaders for a discussion on the importance of investigative journalism. The Society’s report on the event can be read here.

Press freedom and legislative proposals
Following an approach by the i newspaper in January 2023, the Society’s Campaign Officer spoke in depth to one of its journalists about press freedom and legislative proposals that were of the most  concern to the Society and its members. The Society’s President subsequently submitted a quote for inclusion in the i’s article, titled ‘Why journalists can’t name an MP arrested for rape: Inside the battle for press freedom’ published on 17 January 2023.

Exclusion of media on Rwanda trip
Following the decision by the Home Office earlier this year to only invite a select number of news outlets to accompany the Home Secretary on a trip to Rwanda, the Society wrote to both the Prime Minister and the Home Office seeking assurances that all departments intend to adhere fully to Government Communications Service Guidelines and fully engage with all outlets moving forward. We have since met with the Home Office to discuss how similar issues or perceptions can be avoided in the future.

SNP ban on media at leadership hustings
The Society was the first press freedom organisation to highlight and criticise the SNP for attempting to ban media attendance from its leadership hustings events in February 2023. The Society’s statement prompted a lot of coverage over the initial decision with the Society welcoming a partial u-turn on media access with 24 hours of the story breaking.

ICO Draft Journalist Code
The Society took part in numerous meetings with the Information Commissioner’s Office and provided feedback to the various consultations on its Journalism Code.  The Society’s inital feedback on the draft code can be found here. The Code was formally submitted to the Secretary of State at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology in July 2023 and can be found here.

Anti-disinformation monitoring reports
Following a report by Big Brother Watch, the Society issued a statement in January 2023 saying that it was “deeply concerned” to hear reports that government units set up to tackle fake news recorded the comments of journalists including Peter Hitchens and Julia Hartley-Brewer that were critical of government decision-making during the Covid-19 pandemic. The statement can be read in full here.

Family Court transparency pilot
Following the long-awaited launch this year of the pilot scheme in Carlisle, Cardiff and Leeds that will allow freer reporting in the Family Court, the Society issued a statement welcoming its launch. As part of the pilot, journalists will be issued with a “transparency order” and given key court documents to enable reporting in the three cities. While they are still prohibited from publishing any details that could identify a family involved in a case, they will be able to name local authorities and high-level individuals involved such as court-appointed experts.  In another significant change, the pilot will also see journalists able to quote family members involved in cases provided that they remain anonymous. Judges will still retain the discretion to ban reporting of cases if circumstances justify such an order. The Society’s statement can be found here.