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United Kingdom

Key Developments

» Leveson inquiry calls for press regulatory body backed by statute.

» Libel reform legislation inches ahead in Parliament.

The Leveson inquiry, begun in 2011 after revelations of phone-hacking and other ethical lapses by the press, drew to a close with the issuance of a lengthy report that proposed the creation of an independent regulatory body backed by statute. Critics, including CPJ, warned that statutory regulation would infringe on press freedom; Prime Minister David Cameron urged instead that the industry strengthen self-regulation. Some progress was made toward the reform of libel laws, which are highly unfavorable to journalists because they allow for “libel tourism,” the practice of filing claims based on minimum circulation within the United Kingdom even when plaintiffs and defendants are not based there. Libel legislation introduced in May would limit long and costly proceedings and make it easier for frivolous cases to be quickly dismissed. Press freedom advocates said such reform would be an important step forward, but urged lawmakers to strengthen public-interest defense and protect Internet service providers. The measure was pending in the House of Lords in late year. In June, the Home Office proposed a measure to increase government surveillance of all online communications. The proposal met with strong criticism--detractors called it the “snooper’s charter”--and a Parliamentary review committee dismissed it as excessive. The government sought to allow Sweden to extradite Julian Assange for questioning in an alleged assault, prompting the WikiLeaks founder to take refuge in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. One journalist in Belfast was threatened in 2012, and the 11-year-old murder of Irish reporter Martin O’Hagen remained unsolved.

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The Leveson report, released in November, immediately set off intense debate on where the line should be drawn between protecting victims of unethical press practices and ensuring the independence of news media.

Three areas of concern:

Statutory regulation

Leveson called for legislation that would establish the requirements of the new regulatory body, and identify a government agency that would “certify” its ongoing work.

Political influence

Members of Parliament would lay out the criteria for the new regulatory entity and the means of selecting its members. Legislation, once in place, could be toughened.

Global effect

CPJ has documented numerous instances worldwide in which government officials have abused regulatory bodies to further their own interests. The creation of a press regulator in the United Kingdom, one of the world’s most open societies, would set a poor precedent.

A long-awaited defamation bill was introduced in 2012, raising hopes that plaintiff-friendly laws would be amended to curtail libel tourism and protect public-interest journalism. Under the bill, plaintiffs would have to prove they have suffered serious harm to their reputations. Press advocates welcomed the bill, which was pending in the House of Lords in late year, but said more could be done to protect public-interest journalism.

Two areas of weakness:

Public-interest defense

The defense does not extend to citizen journalists or experts quoted in news reports who are seeking to bring important information to the public.

Internet service providers

Providers may still be held liable if they host defamatory material published by third parties.

The murder of Martin O'Hagan, an investigative journalist with the Dublin newspaper Sunday World, remains unsolved. Known for his coverage of both Catholic and Protestant paramilitary groups, O'Hagan was shot outside his home in the Northern Ireland town of Lurgan on September 28, 2001.

Two other unsolved murders in the European Union:


Sokratis Giolias, killed in July 2010 by two unidentified men in police uniforms. Police said bullet casings matched handguns used by a radical group called Sect of Revolutionaries.


José Luis López de la Calle, killed in May 2000 by suspected members of the Basque separatist group ETA. López de la Calle was an outspoken critic of ETA's campaign for independence.

The United Kingdom hosts at least 13 exiled journalists, according to CPJ research, making it one of the leading resettlement locations.

Top countries to which they flee, 2007-12:

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