NUJ supports major press freedom case
8 April 2008
The NUJ has condemned a growing culture of "intolerance of press freedoms" and announced major financial support for a journalist facing unprecedented legal action by the Greater Manchester police.
The union has agreed to back the appeal of Shiv Malik, a journalist who has been subjected to a court order which, the union believes, could have serious implications for the future of investigative journalism.
On Monday, a court ordered Shiv Malik to hand over materials used in his reporting on terrorist organisations. While the police can apply for such orders under the 2000 Terrorism Act, this case is believed to be unprecedented because the main person the police are interested in and who is quoted in Malik's work has volunteered to speak openly to them.
Shiv Malik is arguing that such draconian measures are therefore unwarranted.
Jeremy Dear, the NUJ general secretary, told the union's annual conference the union would support Malik financially to appeal against the order:
"Journalism is facing grave threats in an age of intolerance. While dissent is being criminalized on the streets, independent journalism is being increasingly caught in the civil liberties clampdown."
Speaking outside the conference, Jeremy Dsalear said:
"This case is of enormous importance to the future of investigative journalism. The police argue that it would be in the public interest for them to obtain Shiv's materials, yet such action would fundamentally undermine the ability of journalists to do their work.
"The dangers presented by this case far outweigh any possible advantages that could come from the police obtaining information that is already freely available to them.
"It would appear the police now see journalists as simply another tool of intelligence gathering – and that puts both journalists and journalism under threat.
"If someone wants to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, or speak out on issues of a sensitive nature, they will be far less likely to come forward if they are unsure whether they can speak in confidence. That's not only damaging to democracy, it also forces debate around these issues out of the public eye.
"Open debate is one of our strongest weapons in taking on terrorists, yet this case undermines our ability to expose the fragility of their arguments."
The Shiv Malik action is the latest in a line of recent cases in which media freedoms have come under threat. Milton Keynes journalist Sally Murrer is currently awaiting trial on charges alleging she illegally obtained information from the police, a case thought to have already cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Sally Murrer denies the charges and in his conference speech Jeremy called for the case to be dropped, saying:
"If [the police] win, it will become a crime to report what a police officer or any other public official tells them without authorisation or, indeed, even to talk to them.
"If [the police] lose it will be a victory for free reporting and independent journalism. That's why we are offering Sally Murrer our union's full support."