Online news archives at risk of censorship

Freelance journalists whose published stories feature people facing trial could have such articles removed by Britain’s top lawyer under new powers being proposed to parliament.

According to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the attorney-general would, for the first time, have the right to remove articles archived online that a publisher has about a defendant.

For being those who distribute the material, editors who refuse to comply with such ‘take-down’ notices could be punished with an unlimited financial penalty or even imprisonment.

The objective of the power is to head off the prospect of a jury facing the defendant from being prejudiced where, say, an article mentions the defendant’s previous convictions.

Publishers’ fear that targeted stories may never be reinstated, which could lead to a ‘black hole in the historic record’ of a person or story, the reporting of which may be in the public interest.

Media freedom advocates also argue that a separate provision in the bill that outlaws researching a case during a trial means archived material is extremely unlikely to influence its jurors or outcome.


18th May 2014

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