Hacked Off welcomes the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service not to press charges against the Guardian journalist Amelia Hill, who had been questioned by police in relation to alleged aiding and abetting offences of misconduct in public office and breach of the Data Protection Act. On the known evidence this was a case of journalism in the public interest and there has been no suggestion that corruption played a part.
This case underlines the need for greater clarity about journalism and the public interest. Hacked Off raised this early in the Leveson process and others are working on the matter too. It is often suggested – usually by those seeking a licence for privacy invasion – that defining the public interest in relation to journalism is impossible. This is not so: several definitions exist and overwhelmingly they draw a clear line between (a) information that helps the public or protects it from harm and (b) intrusive gossip and trivia. On the evidence available, Hill’s case falls in (a).
It would help police, prosecutors, journalists and the public if we settled on one definition for legal purposes. Hacked Off would also like public interest defences in law, which exist in some statutes, extended to a wider range of laws to give better protection to journalists and others engaged in disclosure in the public interest. Too often today, legitimate investigations are ‘chilled’ by fears of prosecution which result from lack of clarity and insufficient legal protection.