Newsletter: Lyra McKee bursary, Reach plc campaign and press freedom in Hong Kong

Posted on: February 10, 2022 by Claire Meadows

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Government confirms press exemption for new communications offencesThe government has confirmed that it will include a press exemption for new communications offences in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.Included in a statement on Friday (4 February 2022) by Minister for Tech, Chris Philp MP, the government confirmed that it would be accepting the recommended harm-based communications offence, false communications offence and threatening communications offence, as laid out in the Law Commission’s ‘Modernising Communications Offences’ report, published in July 2021.

The offences will be brought into law through the Online Safety Bill, Philp confirmed, and would include a press exemption under the general harm-based communications offence and the knowingly false communications offence.

Responding to the statement, the Society of Editors’ Executive Director Dawn Alford welcomed the government’s recognition of the importance of protecting freedom of expression in the bill.

She said: “The Society welcomes the government’s confirmation that a press exemption for new communications offences will be included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.

“While the Society wholeheartedly supports the government’s efforts to make the internet a safer place, it is essential that the Online Safety Bill includes broad and workable protections to ensure that the media can continue to fulfil its vital work in the public interest.”

The press exemption under the new offences would be included to “help ensure that the criminal law is focused on the most harmful behaviour whilst protecting freedom of expression”, Philp confirmed.

He said: “The current offences are sufficiently broad in scope that they could constitute a disproportionate interference in the right to freedom of expression. The new offences will protect freedom of expression and, in the case of the harm-based offence by increasing the threshold of harm to serious distress, will ensure that communications which individuals find offensive, such as the expression of a view they do not like or agree with, will not be caught.

“We have also accepted the Law Commission’s recommendation to include a press exemption within the general harm-based communications offence and the knowingly false communications offence. Whilst we do not expect the new offences will capture communication made by the media, including this press exemption demonstrates the government’s commitment to upholding media freedom.”

Mirror launches ‘Give a Pint, Save a Life’ campaign The Mirror has launched a campaign to encourage blood donations amid an NHS shortfall.Titled ‘Give a Pint, Save a Life’, the campaign calls on readers to ‘join an amazing band of lifesavers’ amid an NHS shortfall of 75,000 regular donors.

Leading the campaign is the story of one-year old Eddie Griffin (pictured) who has a rare condition and needs a blood transfusion every month to keep him alive.

Speaking to the Mirror about Eddie’s condition, Mum Charlotte, 32, said: “In the days leading up to a transfusion Eddie can become grumpy and tired. The change once he has blood is remarkable – the colour returns to his face and he is raring to go.

“Amazingly, every time Eddie receives blood, he learns a new skill. When he learned to walk and sit up for the first time, both were immediately after a transfusion.”

As part of the campaign the paper is also highlighting the plight of 15,000 sickle cell sufferers in England who need regular transfusions to help prevent symptoms. Sickle cell mostly affects Afro-Caribbean patients so there is an urgent need for more donors.

More details on the campaign can be found here.

Samaritans publishes guidance for reporting suicide and self-harm online The Samaritans has this week published its new guidance for journalists and programme makers for reporting on self-harm and suicide online.Launched ahead of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday 8 February, the Samaritans said that the guidance intends to be an ‘invaluable and practical resource’ for those who are communicating with public audiences about online content relating to suicide and self-harm.

The resource offers guidance on best practice for reporting online content and highlights how responsible reporting can encourage important conversations around mental health. 

Sensitive reporting of suicide is enshrined under Clause 5 of the Editors’ Code of Practice which stipulates that when reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail of the method used, to prevent simulative acts.

Lyra McKee bursary scheme open for applications The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) has announced that its Lyra McKee Bursary Scheme 2022 is now open for applications.The scheme, launched in 2019, aims to train and mentor people from underprivileged backgrounds, who aspire to become journalists or who are at the very early stages of their journalism career.

Established in memory of investigative journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot dead by dissident republicans in Derry in April 2019, the bursary provides five months of investigative journalism training through online courses and in-person attendance at the CIJ Summer Investigative Journalism Conference 2022 alongside regular online mentoring from leading investigative journalists.

Open to aspiring journalists over the age of 18, the CIJ particularly welcomes applications from people from poorer backgrounds, people of colour, people with disabilities, carers, members of the LGBTQ+ community, travellers and anyone who cannot afford to pay for the #CIJSummer training.

Full details of the scheme and how to apply can be found here.

Media Freedom Coalition: ‘Deep concern’ over press freedom in Hong KongThe UK, as a member of the Media Freedom Coalition, has expressed its ‘deep concern’ at attacks on press freedom in Hong Kong.

In a statement issued this week (Monday 7 February 2022), the Coalition highlighted its concern amid reports of the suppression of independent local media in Hong Kong following the recent raid of Stand News offices, the arrests of its staff, and the subsequent self-closure of Citizen News, stemming from concern over the safety of its staff.

The Society of Editors has previously highlighted press freedom concerns in Hong Kong and a denial by leader Carrie Lam that press freedom faces ‘extinction’ in Hong Kong as reported by the Financial Times last month.   

The Media Freedom Coalition’s statement, issued by the Foreign Office,  said that since the enactment of the National Security Law in June 2020, authorities have targeted and suppressed independent media in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

It said: “This has eroded the protected rights and freedoms set out in the Basic Law and undermines China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This has also caused the near-complete disappearance of local independent media outlets in Hong Kong.

“These ongoing actions further undermine confidence in Hong Kong’s international reputation through the suppression of human rights, freedom of speech and free flow and exchange of opinions and information. A stable and prosperous Hong Kong in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are protected should be in everybody’s interest.

“We urge Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authorities to respect freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Hong Kong, in line with the Basic Law and China’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”