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October 28, 2014

Society of Editors backs Clegg’s call for press’ legal right to a public interest defence with laws like RIPA

By Cleland Thom

A call by Nick Clegg to have a public interest defence for the press inserted into laws like the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the Bribery Act has been backed by the Society of Editors.

The society’s executive director Bob Satchwell said the move is "clearly necessary".

He said: "We would prefer not to ask for any special privileges under the law for journalists.

"But, as there is a growing trend to ignore both common sense and historic and Article 10 rights on freedom of expression and media freedom, strong public interest defences are now clearly necessary.

"Sadly there is also a tendency for the police, and others, to take little notice of the intention behind legislation.

"That is because the last Labour government particularly seemed to want to legislate on everything and politicians have a propensity to knee-jerk reactions to popular outrage, for example to terrorism.

"It means that legislation is poorly drafted because of the overwork it creates for officals and there is too little parliamentary scrutiny.

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"New laws too often are passed without a clear and simple purpose clause."

The Society of Editors warned about the risks to the press from RIPA and the Terrorism Act before they became law.

Satchwell added: "At the time, no one believed, or said, that RIPA was intended for anything other than to fight terrorism and serious and organised crime.

"Without clear definitions the police justify looking at journalists' phone records 'lawfully',  and they and others invade the privacy of ordinary people with impunity."

The former justice secretary Ken Clarke rejected calls for a public interest defence to be applied to the Bribery Act in a speech to the Society of Editors’ annual conference in 2011.

Cleland Thom is author of the eBook Internet Law for Journalists

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