The Society of Editors has welcomed the withdrawal of a number of ‘chilling’ amendments to the Data Protection Bill after senior peers spoke up in defence of press freedom this week.
The amendments, which would have made it harder for journalists to expose wrongdoing by criminals and corrupt politicians, were withdrawn after widespread criticism by a number of peers.
Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors described the amendments as repressive and said that they would have a devastating effect on the public’s right to know.
He said: “The amendments, tabled and later withdrawn by Baroness Hollins, would have a chilling effect on investigative journalism and would provide a field day for those that wish to keep unfavourable information out of the public eye.”
Hollins had had put forward a series of amendments to the Bill that would have restricted the special freedoms journalists currently have in processing personal information provided they can satisfy certain criteria, such as a reasonable belief publication would be in the public interest.
During the debate Lords spoke out against other proposals which would dramatically increase the power of the Information Commissioner to interfere in the journalistic process and force newspapers to join the Press Recognition Panel-recognised regulator IMPRESS in order to qualify journalistic exemptions from the data protection.
Speaking of the amendments, Mr Murray added: “The repressive amendments would not only allow the subjects of legitimate investigation to attempt to obstruct journalistic publication, they would stifle important investigative journalism and restrict the press from exposing wrongdoing and impropriety. It is essential that the ability of journalists to do their job and hold power to account is safeguarded.”
The amendments attacking the press were withdrawn although further amendments are likely to be debated in January.
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Labour spokesman, said: “I have an amendment, Amendment 165, to be taken on Wednesday 10 January—buy your tickets now—which will rehash a lot of our discussion today. It is focused on running a proper inquiry into what needs to happen now to deal maturely with the issues which the press does not wish to be regulated.”
Read more on the debate via the News Media Association here.