“Just when journalists thought legal threats to press freedom in Britain couldn’t get any worse, along comes another menacing piece of legislation. After the Investigatory Powers Act, correctly nicknamed the snoopers’ charter, and the law commission’s proposal for a new Espionage Act that could transform journalism into spying, comes the data protection bill.
This bill, now making its way through parliament, has the potential to inhibit investigative journalism. It has alarmed news broadcasters and newspapers alike. Yet thanks to the domination of our media landscape by Brexit, the bill has not received anything like enough attention. That is a grave oversight.”
So wrote Roy Greenslade, journalist and academic in The Guardian on 4 December. The bill has been tabled by the Department of Culture and is currently being debated in the House of Lords before it goes to the Commons. According to Roy it would also make life more difficult for whistle-blowers who, like the journalists they contact, risk being criminalised for obtaining and retaining personal data without consent. It would be a further obstacle in getting people to come forward and provide valuable information about corruption and other wrongdoing.
Meanwhile the Press Gazette has recently reported the result of a poll conducted by the Ipsos Mori Veracity Index found that UK journalists are less trusted than estate agents. Just 27% of those surveyed trust journalists to tell the truth. Only politicians (17%) ranked lower in the annual October survey which questioned 998 adults. Nurses got the best rating at 94%.
For journalists, it’s an improvement since the survey first began in 1983.Then only17 per cent of Britons trusted journalists to tell them the truth. In 1993 trust in journalists hit a low point of 12 per cent, but has improved since the hacking scandal of 2011 when the survey found that 21 per cent of Britons trusted journalists to tell them the truth. TV journalists scored better with a 38% trust rating, more than priests who came out at 35%. Earlier research found that UK newspapers were the least trusted in Europe.
A recent report for Reuters, Institute for the study of Journalists, found that the main reasons for distrust were bias, exaggeration, sensationalism and low standards.