JOURNALISM: Government confirms press exemption for new communications offences

The government has confirmed that it will include a press exemption for new communications offences in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.

Included in a statement on Friday (4 February 2022) by Minister for Tech, Chris Philp MP, the government confirmed that it would be accepting the recommended harm-based communications offence, false communications offence and threatening communications offence, as laid out in the Law Commission’s ‘Modernising Communications Offences’ report, published in July 2021.

The offences will be brought into law through the Online Safety Bill, Philp confirmed, and would include a press exemption under the general harm-based communications offence and the knowingly false communications offence.

Responding to the statement, the Society of Editors’ Executive Director Dawn Alford welcomed the government’s recognition of the importance of protecting freedom of expression in the bill.

She said: “The Society welcomes the government’s confirmation that a press exemption for new communications offences will be included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill.

“While the Society wholeheartedly supports the government’s efforts to make the internet a safer place, it is essential that the Online Safety Bill includes broad and workable protections to ensure that the media can continue to fulfil its vital work in the public interest.”

The press exemption under the new offences would be included to “help ensure that the criminal law is focused on the most harmful behaviour whilst protecting freedom of expression”, Philp confirmed.

He said: “The current offences are sufficiently broad in scope that they could constitute a disproportionate interference in the right to freedom of expression. The new offences will protect freedom of expression and, in the case of the harm-based offence by increasing the threshold of harm to serious distress, will ensure that communications which individuals find offensive, such as the expression of a view they do not like or agree with, will not be caught.

“We have also accepted the Law Commission’s recommendation to include a press exemption within the general harm-based communications offence and the knowingly false communications offence. Whilst we do not expect the new offences will capture communication made by the media, including this press exemption demonstrates the government’s commitment to upholding media freedom.”

Lyra McKee bursary scheme open for applications 

The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) has announced that its Lyra McKee Bursary Scheme 2022 is now open for applications.

The scheme, launched in 2019, aims to train and mentor people from underprivileged backgrounds, who aspire to become journalists or who are at the very early stages of their journalism career.

Established in memory of investigative journalist Lyra McKee, pictured above, who was shot dead by dissident republicans in Derry in April 2019, the bursary provides five months of investigative journalism training through online courses and in-person attendance at the CIJ Summer Investigative Journalism Conference 2022 alongside regular online mentoring from leading investigative journalists.

Open to aspiring journalists over the age of 18, the CIJ particularly welcomes applications from people from poorer backgrounds, people of colour, people with disabilities, carers, members of the LGBTQ+ community, travellers and anyone who cannot afford to pay for the #CIJSummer training.

Full details of the scheme and how to apply can be found here.

Mirror launches ‘Give a Pint, Save a Life’ campaign 

The Mirror has launched a campaign to encourage blood donations amid an NHS shortfall.

Titled ‘Give a Pint, Save a Life’, the campaign calls on readers to ‘join an amazing band of lifesavers’ amid an NHS shortfall of 75,000 regular donors.

Leading the campaign is the story of one-year old Eddie Griffin (pictured) who has a rare condition and needs a blood transfusion every month to keep him alive.

Speaking to the Mirror about Eddie’s condition, Mum Charlotte, 32, said: “In the days leading up to a transfusion Eddie can become grumpy and tired. The change once he has blood is remarkable – the colour returns to his face and he is raring to go.

“Amazingly, every time Eddie receives blood, he learns a new skill. When he learned to walk and sit up for the first time, both were immediately after a transfusion.”

As part of the campaign the paper is also highlighting the plight of 15,000 sickle cell sufferers in England who need regular transfusions to help prevent symptoms. Sickle cell mostly affects Afro-Caribbean patients so there is an urgent need for more donors.

More details on the campaign can be found here.

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