I am passionate about a free press. But that freedom does not include the right to abuse others

Jane WinterGuest Blog by Jane Winter

I happen to be a journalist’s daughter.  I also happen to be a victim of computer hacking.  I did not choose to be either of those things.  I’m also, completely by choice, a democrat.

Like most people, I get my news from newspapers, the television, and, these days, the internet.  All of it is written by journalists, the vast majority of whom are working hard to tell it how it is.  I appreciate that.

As a ‘former’ human rights activist (that is to say, before I retired, but I’m not sure that you ever give up being a human rights activist) I care passionately about the freedom of the press.  In any country, but especially in a country claiming to be a developed democracy, like the UK, it’s essential that we have a press that is free to say what it thinks, to hold the powerful to account, and even, on occasion, to get it wrong.

However, that does not give them the right to abuse anyone.   Just to get technical for a moment, freedom of speech is not absolute.  It is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and given effect in domestic law by the Human Rights Act.  Article 10 says:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

There’s a phrase in this legal-speak that I’d like to highlight:  “for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence”.

The press has no right to intrude on people’s privacy, as the News of the World did when it published Kate McCann’s private diary without her consent, and as a few newspapers did in the case of every single person who has been hacked.

In later life, my father taught journalism to aspiring young people. Along with boring things, like grammar, he also taught journalistic ethics.

As a human rights activist, I worked alongside investigative journalists, some of whom risked their lives to tell us the truth.  Every single one of them understood the need to be ethical: not to expose innocent people to risk, whether it be psychological or physical.

There is nothing in the Royal Charter agreed by all ends of the political spectrum and both Houses of Parliament last April, which would inhibit the freedom of the press.  If there was, I wouldn’t support it.  The alternative version of the Charter drawn up by the press industry, on the other hand, lacked independence and amounted to the press marking its own homework.

I know many good, decent journalists.  I have been surprised, however, by the way that, instead of reporting objectively on the debate, so many of them have fallen for the myth that independent and effective self-regulation by the press, in order to avoid the abuses which I believe most of us are sick of, is somehow a curtailment of the freedom of the press.  Under the all-party Royal Charter, there will be no dictation to the press of what they can say.  If they get it wrong, there will be a mechanism for putting that right, but I can’t think of a single hard-working journalist who would quarrel with that.  Proper self-regulation will protect journalists from unfair accusations and members of the public, like me and many others, from unwarranted intrusions into our lives.  What’s not to like?

Jane Winter gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry as a victim of computer hacking


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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

October 17, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Even the usually reliable Private Eye has fallen for the same myth. The current edition and its coverage of the Charter reads like an extension of the Daily Mail. A very sad day.

October 21, 2013 at 5:16 am
– In reply to: Dan

My comment above shoud be under the “The Times: A follower not a leader” story!

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