News bulletin: New Years’ Honours, Online Safety Bill and new BBC Chief

Posted on: January 11, 2022 by admin

Happy New Year from the Society of Editors

On behalf of our Executive Director Dawn Alford and the Society’s board members, we would like to wish our members and subscribers a Happy New Year and best wishes for the year ahead. Thank you for continuing to support the Society’s vital work in campaigning for media freedom. We look forward to working with you in 2022. 

Former regional journalists join national names in Honours List 

Two former regional journalists have joined well-known national TV presenters in being recognised in the Queen’s 2022 New Year’s Honours List.Alongside ITV Presenter Kate Garraway and TV presenter Moira Stuart, former regional journalists in Co Tyrone and Rhyl were also recognised for their services to journalism and their local community.The former long-standing editor of the Tyrone Constitution and its sister newspaper, the Strabane Weekly News, Wesley Atchison (pictured) was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to journalism and the community in Co Tyrone. Atchison officially retired in August 2020 having served 46 years continuously with the Tyrone newspapers – now part of the Alpha Media Group.

Mike McEvoy, proprietor of the North Wales Press Agency, and a former radio and television reporter with both BBC and HTV in the 60s, 70s and 80s was also awarded an OBE for his services to the community in North Wales. 

TV presenter Garraway, appointed an MBE after documenting her husband Derek Draper’s battle with coronavirus in the film Finding Derek, was recognised for her services to broadcasting, journalism and charity while broadcaster Moira Stuart was awarded a CBE for her services to media. Stuart was the first female African-Caribbean newsreader on British television and she began her career as a radio production assistant in the 1970s.

No delay to Online Safety Bill, says Culture Secretary

There has been no delay to the Online Safety Bill and it will be presented before parliament shortly, the Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has today confirmed.  

Answering questions in the House of Commons this morning (Thursday 6 January 2022) on the Online Safety Bill, the BBC licence fee, the “levelling-up” of support for local and regional media, what the government was doing to tackle misinformation online and the privatisation of Channel 4, Dorries said that the “ground-breaking” bill would be laid out in the near future and that social media companies must take more responsibility for content hosted on their platforms.  

Addressing reports that only three out of five social media companies responded to a letter from 50 Conservative MPs in October 2021 calling on social media giants to act to tackle online abuse, Dorries said that she was “disappointed but not surprised”.

She added: “We will be introducing legislation that will introduce criminal sanctions including some pretty steep fines which could include up to 10 per cent of global annual turnover which could be as much as £18 billion. There will be some considerable sanctions within the bill.

“…We shouldn’t have to be doing this. The moral responsibility for those organisations is to provide the protections that young people require. It is their responsibility to ensure that what is illegal is no longer placed online and that they remove content that is legal but harmful but most of all that they protect young people and children.”

The Society submitted evidence to the consultation on the Online Harms White Paper in 2019 and, more recently, former Society President Alison Gow, Audience and Content Director at Reach North West, gave evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee scrutinising the Online Safety Bill calling for a total exemption for journalistic content to be included in the legislation. 

Addressing a question from former Culture Secretary and Media Minister John Whittingdale MP as to whether the government agreed that an important part of “levelling-up” was to “strengthen local and regional media”, Dorries refused to commit to an extension of the local democracy reporter scheme but said that she was willing to meet with the former DCMS select committee chair to discuss how the sector could be further supported.  

Addressing misinformation online – particularly around the Covid vaccine – the Secretary of State said that the DCMS misinformation and disinformation unit was still in existence and working effectively to remove harmful content online.

She added: “On a daily basis we work to remove that content online which is harmful and particularly when in comes to Covid 19 and vaccinations which is harmful and provides misinformation and disinformation. Daily we have contact with those online providers and the work is ongoing.”

Dorries confirmed that the consultation last year on a Change of Ownership of Channel 4 Television Corporation had received an “unprecedented” 60,000 responses and that these responses were still being read through.

She added: “We will reach a response shortly on what we do with Channel 4 but I give my assurances that it will be what is best for the sustainability of Channel 4 moving forward in the future.”

The session can be watched back here.  

ITN Chief replaces Unsworth as new BBC CEO

ITN chief executive Deborah Turness has been announced as the BBC’s new CEO of news and current affairs.

Turness (pictured), previously president of NBC News from 2013 until 2017 and later President of NBC News International, has worked as CEO of ITN since April 2021.

Announcing the appointment on Thursday (6 January 2022) Turness said there has never been a greater need for the BBC’s powerful brand of “impartial and trusted journalism”.

She added: “It is a great privilege to be asked to lead and grow BBC News at a time of accelerated digital growth and innovation, when its content is reaching more global consumers on more platforms than ever before.”

Turness will replace Fran Unsworth who announced in September 2021 that she was leaving the BBC.

Unsworth, a previous President and board member of the Society of Editors, said it had been “a great privilege” to work for the Corporation. 

She added: “I have had a ringside seat at some momentous events, including the Falklands War, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, wars in the Middle East, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 and countless general elections.

“The jobs I’ve done have not always been easy. Undoubtedly, some were more fun than others. But I am proud to have done all of them – and to work for an organisation which has such a vital and precious role in the UK and around the world.”

Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, said he was “delighted” Turness was taking on the role.

“Deborah brings a wealth of experience, insight, first-class editorial judgement, and a strong track record of delivery,” he said in a statement.

“She is a passionate advocate for the power of impartial journalism and a great believer in the BBC and the role we play, in the UK and globally. She will do a brilliant job of leading our news and current affairs as we deliver on the BBC’s public service mission in the digital age.”

Hong Kong leader denies press freedom faces “extinction”

Press freedom does not face “extinction” in Hong Kong, leader Carrie Lam has said this week.

Speaking on Tuesday (4 January 2022) in the wake of the closure of two independent online media outlets in the space of a week, Lam appeared to refute allegations published in the Financial Times (FT) earlier this week that “Hong Kong’s free press is on the brink of extinction”.

The FT reported on Monday (3 January 2022) that Citizen News, an online news site founded in 2017, would cease operations on Tuesday, citing safety concerns for its reporters following the arrest of journalists from Stand News and the pro-democracy news site’s subsequent closure last week. 

As reported by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) this week, Lam refuted questions from HKFP reporters that the closure of the news outlets was in any way linked to the implementation of the National Security Law and that it was evidence of a “chilling effect” on press freedom since the law’s implementation in 2020. 

She said: “I cannot, on behalf of these two organizations and their responsible people, explain what they mean by a ‘chilling effect’, but I certainly would strongly refute any allegation that this is related to the implementation of the National Security Law.

“If the implementation of the National Security Law would undermine press freedom, then we would not be seeing any press freedom in the Western world. You name me which Western country does not have a national security law? They have national security legislation far more draconian than the Hong Kong National Security Law,” Lam added.

The law, introduced following widespread pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, has seen the arrest of opposition figures and those critical of the government including journalists. The Society of Editors has previously called on the UK government to do more to support a free press in Hong Kong following the arrest of free media campaigner Jimmy Lai in August 2020.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also warned that the security law is “especially dangerous” for journalists and has previously cited the positive work of outlets such as Stand News and Citizen News in putting up a “resistance” to “a full-blown intimidation campaign by the government” aimed at the “editorial autonomy” of other outlets.

Addressing the allegations in the FT directly, Lam said that press freedom did not “face collapse” under her leadership.

She added: “I read news about, because of the closure of online media, press freedom in Hong Kong faces extinction or Hong Kong free press faces collapse. I just cannot accept that sort of allegations

“Nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong, and journalists and media organisations, like all of us, have to respect and comply with the law.”

Regional Editor moves to Express titles 

Karl Holbrook, Editor of the Northern Echo, has this week announced his departure from the regional title to take up a management role at the Daily Express.

Holbrook, Editor of the Darlington-based Echo since October 2020, will join the Daily Express as Executive Editor in the Spring.  

Holbrook, a member of the Society of Editors, has previously edited the Bolton News and oversaw the running of the Lancashire Telegraph. 

Writing on LinkedIn, Holbrook, thanked Newsquest for its support and expressed his excitement at moving to his new role.

He said: “Super excited – and a little terrified – to announce that I’ll become Executive Editor of Express Newspapers later this spring.

“Sad to be leaving The Northern Echo and our wonderful team. Thank you Newsquest’s Toby Granville for all the support and the opportunities you’ve given me – and here’s looking forward to working with more great colleagues at Reach plc, Express Newspapers.”

Holbrook joined a panel discussion on ‘Tackling the increase in online abuse against journalists’ at the Society’s virtual conference in November 2020. You can re-watch the debate here.

Details on how to apply for the editorship vacancy at Newsquest can be found here

ICO deadline for consultation on draft journalism code of practice

The ICO’s public consultation on the draft statutory code of practice for data protection and journalism closes next Monday 10 January 2022.

The draft code builds on the ‘Data protection and journalism: a guide for the media’ published in 2014 following industry engagement. It takes into account the responses to the initial call for views in 2019. A recap of the original responses in 2019, including the Society of Editors response, can be viewed here.

Responses can be submitted via an online survey or via a written response – the details of which can be found here.

JPI launches Northern Ireland World Website

JPIMedia has launched a new platform for its Northern Ireland newspapers with the launch of the new Northern Ireland World website.

Directing traffic from a dozen of JPI’s Northern Irish titles including the Ulster Star, Coleraine Times and Londonderry Sentinel, the site is edited by Valerie Martin, JPIMedia’s senior weeklies editor in Northern Ireland.

Writing for the new platform, David Montgomery, executive chairman of JPIMedia owner National World, said that after 100 years “Northern Ireland needs to seize the moment and boldly determine its own future”. 

He wrote: “Northern Ireland has earned the possibility to take on the mantle of nationhood in its own right.

“If Irish unity is ever achieved it can only be with two equals – two nation states – coming together voluntarily. Otherwise it will be perceived by a vociferous minority as an annexation on the one hand and a betrayal on the other.

The way forward, as it always has been, is to forget the past and treasure it instead.”

The launch of the Northern Ireland World website is not expected to affect the print titles.

Behind Local News launches hunt for New Stars of 2021

Behind Local News has this week launched its hunt for the New Stars of 2021 – a celebration of journalists that did something different in 2021.

Announcing the launch on Wednesday (5 January 2022), the two New Stars awards will honour an individual who arrived in journalism in their first big role in 2021 and someone who changed jobs and began a new role in 2021.

The New Stars will be honoured during February and journalists can nominate themselves or nominate a colleague or someone who has inspired them.

Journalists who work in newspapers, online, local TV, hyperlocals, start-ups and email newsletters — as long as it’s local – are free to enter.

Details of how to take part can be found here.