World Press Freedom Index downgrades UK as MPs attempt to hijack Data Protection Bill

Owen Meredith

The UK has dropped to 40th place on the Reporters Without Borders annual World Press Freedom Index.

This ranking sees the UK fall behind countries such as Ghana, Chile, Samoa and Trinidad and Tobago. The UK has plummeted down the global league table by 18 places since the Index was first published in 2002.

The Index cited the use of the Data Protection Bill by anti-press campaigners as one of the reasons for the low ranking: “A continued heavy-handed approach towards the press has resulted in the UK keeping its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index.

“Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 remained on the books, presenting cause for concern since the law’s punitive cost-shifting provision could hold publishers liable for the costs of all claims made against them, regardless of merit.”

With the Data Protection Bill reaching its final stages in parliament, new clauses have been tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine. She aims to bring cost-shifting measures against publishers and force a new wide-ranging Leveson-style inquiry into data protection and the media.

Reporters Without Borders UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent said: “Maintaining our ranking of 40th out of 180 countries is nothing to be proud of and puts us in the embarrassing position of having one of the worst records on press freedom in Western Europe.”

North Korea holds the 180th spot, while Norway is ranked first on the Index.

“This is unacceptable for a country that plays an important international standard-setting role when it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms. We must examine the longer-term trend of worrying moves to restrict press freedom – and hold the UK government to account,” Vincent continued.

Reporters Without Borders has highlighted a number of worrying moves against press freedom in the UK. These include: Law Commission proposals making it easy to jail journalists for obtaining leaked information; the Investigatory Powers Bill; and law firm Appleby bringing legal proceedings against the BBC and The Guardian over the Paradise Papers stories. 

PPA Managing Director Owen Meredith commented: “This is sad confirmation of an increasingly hostile environment towards the press in the UK. Defending press freedom is a key priority for the PPA. The most pressing matter is ensuring MPs do not hijack the crucial Data Protection Bill when it returns to the Commons next month. Inserting new clauses would have a deep chilling effect on investigative journalism and the ability of the press to hold the rich and powerful to account.

“The government has rightly committed to repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act. State-backed regulation of the press would see publications close and have wide-ranging consequences for a free, vibrant and diverse press in the UK.”

The PPA continues to lobby on behalf of the industry for improvements to the Data Protection Bill.


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