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March 19, 2024

Jimmy Lai lawyer reveals daily online threats and frustration with big tech

Event also hears from Clive Myrie on how to be impartial about Russia's 'sham' election.

By Dominic Ponsford

The lawyer for imprisoned Hong Kong journalist Jimmy Lai woke up on Tuesday morning to 11 threats of rape and dismemberment, she told a London panel discussion.

Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC warned that tech companies, including the UK’s largest media business Google, are not doing enough to protect journalists and their sources.

Tortoise Media founder and editor James Harding also spoke at the event and warned that former Conservative attorney general Michael Ellis has placed journalists in danger with his attacks on the BBC.

Meanwhile BBC newsreader Clive Myrie revealed he has been the subject of Facebook misinformation, which he believes was placed by Russia to undermine his reporting from Ukraine.

The breakfast discussion on Tuesday was held at the Royal Institute of British Artists in London to launch the second Sir Harry Evans Investigative Journalism Summit, which will be held at the same venue on 15 May.

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In response to a question from Press Gazette on the role of tech giants in creating a difficult online ecosystem for journalism, lawyer Gallagher said: “One very specific example which troubles me a lot in relation to diversity currently relates to tech giants and that is online abuse of women journalists, particularly women journalists of colour…

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“You end up having a position where women and particularly women of colour, who get so much abuse online, shrink back from these places, many self-censor, and then what you end up is you have a lack of diversity and women’s voices. That’s a particular problem in certain other parts of the world.

“What we have found in dealing with those issues is that we have not had proper buy-in on these issues, as yet, from the tech giants. And it’s critical.”

[Read more: News industry urges police to ‘break cycle of abuse’ against women in journalism]

Speaking about her own experience, she said that because she is acting for Jimmy Lai: “I woke up this morning to a hacking attempt on my bank account, a notification that there has been a hacking attempt on my chambers email, and I woke up to 11 threats of rape or dismemberment online.

“I have been raising these issues for a long period of time with my professional regulator and with tech companies.”

Businessman Lai founded the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily in Hong Kong in 1995. He is currently detained and on trial, which Gallagher has described as a “sham”, accused of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and conspiracy to publish seditious material in the newspaper, which was shut down in 2021.

Gallagher added that last year “a series of fake emails went out to a range of people purporting to be from me looking for privileged information; privilege phishing. So going to people who are journalists and Hong Kongers living here,  purporting to come from me and asking them for information. It’s going to put them and their families at risk.

“These came from Gmail accounts, we reported it to Google. I can tell you, it took a Labour shadow minister holding an event in Parliament to get Google to even engage and that took 18 months. This is not acceptable.”

She said this was a growing a problem that puts sources, journalists and lawyers for journalists at risk “every single day”.

James Harding says anti-Semitism claims against BBC ‘disgraceful’

Former BBC News director and Times editor Harding warned that “efforts to discredit and delegitimise news organisations” has been an “acute problem” during the war in Gaza.

He responded to the recent claim from former UK attorney general under Boris Johnson Sir Michael Ellis that the BBC was “institutionally anti-Semitic” in its reporting of the Israel-Hamas war.

Harding said: “Michael Ellis does not know what he is talking about.

“The idea that someone in that position, attorney general, tries to label – smear – the BBC as anti-Semitic is an absolutely disgraceful thing to do and a very dangerous thing to do for journalists, and divisive in our own country. And I say that as a Jewish person who spent five very happy proud years working for the BBC.”

[Read more: As many people think BBC is pro-Israel as think it is pro-Palestine, poll finds]

Clive Myrie: How to be impartial about Russia’s ‘sham’ election

Myrie spoke of a recent attempt to undermine his reporting from Ukraine on Facebook.

He said: “A message was put out on Facebook towards the end of last year that said that Clive Myrie, a BBC journalist, has been beaten up by racist thugs in Ukraine.

“I got a message from relatives in Jamaica, saying: ‘We’ve seen this, is it true? We knew they were Nazis. From France, all over the world…

“So the Russians are trying to stop me or somehow make it difficult for me as a journalist to report from Ukraine.”

Myrie spoke of the importance of maintaining impartiality in the face of attacks on the journalism of the BBC.

“Someone once said opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one. Opinions don’t matter.

“Who cares what I think about Vladimir Putin? Although last night, we had a very vigorous debate about how we get across to the public that this was a sham election. Do we we say critics say it was a sham election…. or opponents say this… well they would…Maybe we should just say any right-thinking person knows it was a sham.

“No, you have to attribute everything and that is the only way we are going to survive.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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