Brexit and the UK news industry: Freedom to travel, libel and data all impacted

Brexit affects journalism

The UK officially left the European Union on 31 January 2020 after a one-year transition period with an eleventh-hour trade agreement.

But does our departure affect journalists working in the UK and EU – or those trying to sue them?

Travelling for work

Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the FT the EU had offered special travel rights for journalists, as well as other cultural professions such as musicians and artists, during negotiations but that the UK turned this down.

No 10 told The Independent this was because the offer “fell short”.

Journalists wishing to travel from the UK to Europe therefore need to check the work permit requirements of their destination as they vary by country – as do the punishments for those travelling without the correct paperwork.

An Early Day Motion tabled in Parliament on 26 January already has backing from 35 MPs calling for the Government to review its position on travel rights for creative workers.

It notes that “media organisations need the capacity to react quickly when following news and investigative stories and not get bogged down with costly or time-consuming bureaucracy”.

British journalists based in Europe, a group to which about 440 National Union of Journalists members are thought to belong, have also been left unsure whether they can take short trips to work in a third country (further to the UK or their host EU member state).

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet has written to President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to raise the issue.

Nick Gammon, a UK photojournalist based in Amsterdam, told Press Gazette: “We have been forgotten about… these are really big questions and we are not getting any clarity to be honest from anybody.”

“If you are a British journalist you don’t have a deal,” he added. “There is no deal for journalism. The most important thing about the agreement is we are not in it, therefore it is no deal for us.”

Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens wrote to the Government in November specifically asking what measures were being taken to ensure UK-based freelance journalists would be able to operate across European borders after the transition period.

Media minister John Whittingdale responded that the Government was seeking a reciprocal agreement with the EU that could allow UK citizens to undertake some business activities without a work permit, on a short-term basis.

Gammon said: “It’s a bit of a disappointment therefore that we are not included in the trade agreement because this was specifically a question regarding the media.”

But he is “really optimistic that if we push quite hard now we might get somewhere”, saying it is potentially a problem that is easy to solve.

Gammon is urging work permit-free travel for culture and media reasons for periods of up to 90 days.

As it stands anyone can travel through the Schengen area for 90 days but journalists are among the many professions who would not be allowed to work, with exact requirements and penalties differing by country but potential fines reaching thousands of pounds.

Libel and Brexit

Post Brexit it will be much harder for foreign claimants to sue for libel in England and Wales, in what media lawyer Greg Callus described to Press Gazette as by far the biggest legal change affecting journalism as a result of Brexit.

The trade agreement secured in December means the UK is no longer covered by the Brussels Recast Regulation or the Lugano Convention, which detail cross-border civil and commercial jurisdiction, although the UK has applied to rejoin the latter.

This has affected the jurisdiction of the English courts over foreign defendants in all types of claims.

But in particular this affects Section 9 of the Defamation Act 2013, which stopped the UK from having jurisdiction to hear and determine an action against a person or media company domiciled outside the UK and EU if it was not the most appropriate place to bring the action. This now applies to all those outside the UK.

Data protection

The EU General Data Protection Regulation, came into force in 2018 forcing publishers to change how they deal with reader consent, profiling, portability and the right of the consumer to be forgotten, had already been adopted into UK law meaning there are no immediate changes in this area.

[Read more: Greg Callus’ take on GDPR and journalism]

However the trade deal put in place a four-month bridge (which could be extended to six months) during which data can continue to be transferred between the UK and EU while the EU Commission makes an adequacy decision on whether the UK has a sufficient level of data protection.

This means that although the UK and EU currently continue to operate to the same standards in terms of data protection, changes could yet come if the two decide to diverge.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has issued guidance telling UK businesses the EU GDPR may continue to apply directly to them if they operate in and/or offer goods or services to individuals in Europe.

However, some companies are already taking big steps to combat nervousness over what Brexit could mean after this window.

Capital Business Media –  which owns several B2B media brands including Business Matters, Fund Manager Today and Travelling for Business –  has relocated its UK content marketing and SEO division to Ireland and will now deal with all the needs of this part of the business through a new Irish company called Inscriptio.

It said it had decided to do this because it remains possible that at the end of the “bridge” window its ability to send emails to its subscribers and the panel of its business research division will be jeopardised.

Group managing director Richard Alvin said: “During 2020, we saw a 200% increase in demand within our dedicated content marketing as a result of the rapid digital growth of businesses.

“With so many concerns surrounding Brexit possibly threatening the day-to-day operation of this division within the UK, we knew in order to sustain this growth and continue offering our services, we needed to launch the division as a separate firm outside of the UK.

“It was a very easy decision considering the planned expansion of the company, and we knew that having a dedicated office based in Ireland would not only ensure our compliance, but also open up opportunities for our continued growth.”


The UK said last year it had no intention of adopting the EU’s controversial Copyright Directive, part of which has been dubbed the Link Tax as it forces online platforms and aggregators to pay press publishers to use their content in snippets and previews of articles.

More generally the Government has said a substantial part of UK copyright law was derived from the EU’s legislation, meaning it is expected to stay largely the same although reciprocal cross-border arrangements have been amended or stopped.


If you think we have missed any important points about Brexit and the news industry please email and we will update this guide.

Picture: Shutterstock



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