‘Freedom of Press’ is published by the US-based Freedom House, an NGO established in 1941 that has been ranking countries worldwide since 1980 in relation to democracy, human rights and press freedom. In May 2014 it reported that Britain has slipped down the global rankings for freedom of the press to 36th place.
The organisation said press freedom and therefore free speech, had fallen to its lowest level for over a decade. It partly blames regressive steps in countries such as Libya, Turkey and Ukraine, as well as the actions taken against journalists reporting on national security issues in both the US and UK.
Karin Karlekar, the report’s project director, said: “We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments’ efforts to control the message and punish the messenger.” Clearly she could have been talking specifically about Britain in the light of the arrest of David Miranda and the enforced destruction of source material at The Guardian newspaper HQ by government security officials.
Of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2013, 63 were rated free, 68 partly free and 66 not free. Britain dropped from 31st place last year to 36th, ranking it alongside Malta and Slovakia.
“Significant decline took place in Turkey (which fell into the ‘not free’ category) as well as in Greece, Montenegro and the United Kingdom,” Freedom House said.
One year later, the 2015 report states that Britain’s freedom of the press has declined yet further, straddled by now by Uruguay and Slovakia and now just 6 points from being classed as ‘partly free’ alongside Kazakhstan.
The very first sentence from the 2015 reports concludes; “This year’s edition of Freedom of the Press documents a surge in threats to independent journalism, from governments that use legal means to control information” and ends its conclusion with – “The wide and growing range of threats to media freedom around the globe presents a stark challenge to democratic values”.
Central to its findings was – “Censorship is ineffective and often counterproductive as an antidote to extremism, and its limited utility cannot justify the infringement of a fundamental democratic value like freedom of expression.”
At this point, it would be an opportune time to remind the British public, whilst criticising lower ranked countries in the report such as the United States and France, it made no mention of the draconian measures implemented by the British government more recently.
On the 15th October, Gordon Raynor, Chief Reporter at The Telegraph – “Investigative journalism will be “stopped dead in its tracks” and local newspapers may be “driven out of business” when new laws restricting Britain’s free press come into force next month. He continues – Media organisations face “the most substantial threat to press freedom in the modern era” as a result of the “menacing” laws passed in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry.
An independent report into the implications of the Crime and Courts Act, which comes into force on November 3, says that The Telegraph’s landmark investigation into MPs’ expenses would have been all but impossible under the new regime. Campaigners for free speech are demanding the repeal of the “pernicious” new law.
However, behind the principle that the media in Britain has been highjacked by the vested interests of corporations such as Murdoch’a News Corporation, a company that now ranks as the worlds fourth largest media company, there is a much more sinister side to how media and their messages are disseminated in Britain.
Essentially, to be a news or current affairs publisher you must be registered as such with a government regulatory body. That this is a despicable idea goes without saying: it’s a reversal of the past three hundred years of liberty where we’ve been allowed to say or print whatever we want to subject only to the laws of libel, incitement to violence and pressing concerns of national security.
If a news or current affairs publisher is taken to court, by anyone, including the state, and not registered with the government then no matter the outcome, in all circumstances, win or lose, the publisher effectively loses and can’t claim costs.
This new law effectively means that any news outlet, irrespective of size – from corporation to a one man band is now open to being unable to financially defend itself in court if it does not register with the government.
Not one news organisation or outlet has signed the government register.
In another angle the government has taken, The Freedom of Information Act is now ‘under review‘ by officials. This is yet another dangerous deed designed to cover up the wrongdoing of government and their allies such as government agencies, supportive press organisations and corporations that fund their very existance.
David Banisar of Article 19, a human rights organisation that champions freedom of information, criticised the move by government. “The Government’s proposals will lead to more secrecy, less accountability, and a more insular and unresponsive Government. It is moving the law from the right to know to the right to no information.”
In a sharply worded letter to government ministers, Britain’s largest charities jointly demanded the UK’s recently introduced “gaggling law” be repealed.
Over 160 signatories, including representatives from the Salvation Army, Save the Children, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Age UK and Amnesty International, called for the Transparency of Lobbying Act to be scrapped.
They said the legislation interferes with charities’ work and is ensnaring them in costly and counterproductive bureaucracy.
So politically charged is the gagging law that Labour’s website now states “The health of our democracy depends on people’s right to campaign on the issues they care about. That’s why a Labour government will repeal David Cameron’s gagging law.”
UN rapporteur on rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, joined in the foray and stated: “Although sold as a way to level the electoral playing field, the bill actually does little more than shrink the space for citizens – particularly those engaged in civil society groups – to express their collective will. In doing so, it threatens to tarnish the United Kingdom’s democracy.”
In the press freedom report was another damning statement under ‘freedom of the net’. Britain was placed only slightly better than freedom of the press but dramatically fell due to “violations of users rights” which highlighted government filters, mass data retention by ISP’s, violations of privacy, abuse of data protection and “growing fears of abuse by police and intelligence agents.”
That report also stated that government outsourcing and privatizing of blocking and filtering services raised questions about transparency and overblocking, “which may have significant effects on users’ online freedoms”.
In a separate approach of infringement of free speech laws, we can see the governments use of terrorism being as reported today – “David Cameron and Theresa May’s crackdown on extremism risks undermining the British values ministers want to protect, according to the most senior police chief in charge of anti-radicalisation.”
The proposals were also condemned by the Muslim Council of Britain. Dr Shuja Shafi, its secretary general, said of the plans: “We cannot help detecting the McCarthyist undertones in the proposal to create blacklists and exclude and ban people deemed to be extremist. If we are to have such lists at all, they should be determined through a transparent process and subject to judicial oversight.” Which, they are not.
Finally – from the civil rights movement home page – “Freedom of speech and expression are recognised under the European Convention of Human Rights as fundamental human rights. In Britain these rights can be found as early as 1215 in the Magna Carter.”
Just one problem – the Human Rights Act as recognised by the ECHR of which Britain is a signatory is about to be abolished in Britain.
The expectation, after combining all of these different approaches to laws being imposed upon British society is that the 2016 Freedom of Press and Freedom of Net reports should show significant declines straight into a category that does not include the term “FREE”.