Bad Bill: A Swingeing Threat To Hack Freedom And The PR Trade

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Bad bill: A swingeing threat to hack freedom and the PR trade

Another day, another threat to media freedom. The national security bill is making its way through the House of Lords and its content should concern all of us.

It is poorly worded and ill-defined and wide reaching. It plans to lump in journalists and whistle-blowers with spies.

So a hack who uncovers a bribery scandal might be treated the same as a Russian spy poking around the same area.

Which in effect means, I think, that there isn’t a public interest defence for publishing damaging information. At the moment, that’s our best get out for stories that are perhaps slightly wrong, or clearly bad for the reputation of the subject of the piece.

Or entirely right but annoying to the powerful.

As the FT puts it: “Leaks that merely embarrass the government could result in swingeing jail sentences; all from a government that so readily provides ample material to discredit itself. The bill, if passed as drafted, could become a draconian tool for a future government even more shy of accountability than those of recent years.”

Now, our laws in this area are probably out of date. They do need remaking.

But as it stands the bill looks hugely damaging to hacks. I think in turn that is bad for the PR trade, since it turns every dispute into a legal battle where PR is of limited value.

Perhaps a proper public interest clause will emerge before the bill becomes law.

As it stands, media groups are looking at very harsh penalties for just doing their jobs properly. And individual hacks are looking at very wide definitions of what counts as matters that are (not) in the interests of the UK.

UK hacks who work for media groups that are owned by foreigners — erm, that’s a lot of us — could find ourselves in court for reporting what is later deemed commercially sensitive information.

It is bad news all round. Write to your MP…

Press release of the day

How can you spot a nightmare client and how should you go about getting rid of them?

The Bad Clients Report by FreshBooks finds some red flags and tips for moving on.

Clients who don’t appreciate your work can harm your business, it concludes.

Stories that will keep rolling

1) How split is the MPC on the Bank’s rate rise?

2) Is the BoE out of step with the ECB?

3) Should Shell’s record profits face a new windfall tax?

4) Will BT end up rescuing mini telecom rivals?

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