Freedom of expression is being undermined by judges increasingly prioritising personal privacy over the public’s right to know, the Society of Editors has said.
Writing as part of its response to the government’s consultation on Reform of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Society warned that enhanced protections are urgently needed to strengthen statutory provisions for freedom of expression and that the courts should be given specific direction on how to approach questions surrounding the public interest and journalistic activity.
Supporting calls for the introduction of an actual or likely serious harm threshold in misuse of private information cases, the Society also called for a limit on the factors that can be considered in demonstrating harm most importantly by ruling out damage to reputation which it said was already properly protected in defamation law. It also called on the government to consider the implications of the recent ZXC v Bloomberg Supreme Court ruling when looking at how best to strengthen current protections for freedom of expression.
It said: “Freedom of expression is a unique and precious liberty on which the UK has historically placed significant emphasis however in recent years we have seen this liberty significantly undermined by judges increasingly prioritising personal privacy over the public’s right to know.
“Alongside a worrying trend in Strasbourg case law, the recent landmark judgment in the Supreme Court’s ZXC v Bloomberg ruling means that an individual’s right to privacy can now legally take precedent over public interest journalism.
“The courts must be given specific direction on how to approach questions surrounding the public interest and journalistic activity. Alongside consideration of the extent to which information is already in the public domain or has been disseminated by the claimant, judges must also give due regard to the importance of editorial discretion and editorial judgment as to where the public interest lies.”
The Society also called on the government to amend burdensome data protection legislation and higher the threshold for interim relief in relation to injunctions alongside the introduction of enhanced protections for journalists’ sources.
It said: “The Society supports the introduction of necessary provisions to strengthen journalistic exemptions under the Data Protection Act 2018. The government cannot proclaim to want to strengthen freedom of expression provisions without addressing the significant burden that current UKGDPR rules place upon the media.
“The rights of data subjects are increasingly being used by the wealthy as a means of reputation management and we are also seeing data protection claims used against the media as bolt-ons in defamation and misuse of private information cases. The additional costs burden that these unnecessary claims place upon news outlets has a chilling effect on the public’s right to know.”
The Society’s response can be found here.