Insights UK Department of Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) publishes new national action plan for the safety of journalists


In 2021, the UK published a National Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists to address the increasing abuse, threats and harms directed against journalists. The plan is overseen by the National Committee for the Safety of Journalists (“NCSJ”) which consists of the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries, the Minister for Safeguarding (co-chairs), representatives from the police and prosecutors from across the UK, publishers, broadcasters, groups representing journalists, and non-governmental organisations. The Plan has helped to embed collaborative relationships between NCSJ members and those who have a role in ensuring journalists’ safety including the National Council for the Training of Journalists, the Media Lawyers Association, Meta and X.

Significant progress has been made including the appointment of Journalist Safety Liaison Officers in several police forces, new resources and courses for journalists on online harassment and journalism safety and employers designating safety officers to support staff and freelancers. However, the prevalence of threats and abuse is ongoing and there has been an evolution in the nature of the problem due in part to the increasing consumption of news content online.

A revised plan has now been published containing a new set of commitments. These include boosting the evidence base by DCMS and the National Union of Journalists exploring the launch of an online tool to enable data gathering on safety issues.  In light of the criminal offences committed against journalists, which interfere with their rights to free speech, there are new commitments by the police and industry to increase engagement from and collaboration with the police, and to provide police training on the Public Order Act 2023 which specifies that the police cannot use their powers solely to prevent a person from reporting on or observing protests. The DCMS also commits to build on what employers are already doing by fostering collaboration across employers in the sector through the establishment of a bi-annual sub-committee of the NCSJ to share experiences and best practice, and commits to update existing Guidance from the Media Lawyers Association to reflect the new Online Safety Act 2023.

A significant amount of abuse against journalists now takes place online (according to Ofcom, almost half of adults use social media to access news). Meta and X have agreed commitments to take further steps to reduce journalists’ exposure to harmful content on their platforms. The plan also contains a commitment by the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology to work with Ofcom on the implementation of the Online Safety Act, which contains specific duties on larger service providers to ensure that the particular importance of news publishers and journalistic content is considered when deciding how to treat content appearing on their service (e.g. when considering a takedown), and to undertake steps to boost media literacy with a view to improving the public recognition of the value of journalism.

Finally, there is a commitment to tackle risks posed by SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation). SLAPPs are a tool used by wealthy individuals to intimidate and financially burden those who seek to expose their wrongdoing, such as threatening exorbitant legal costs in suits brought against journalists which falsely claim defamation or invasion of privacy. New laws to protect defendants from abusive litigation have been introduced under the UK Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (reported by Wiggin on 2 November 2023) where the case concerns information the journalist has or would disclose relating to an economic crime. The plan sets out commitments to drive forward further non-legislative measures by tackling SLAPPs via the new SLAPPs Taskforce (a body created in September 2023 and led by the DCMS and the Ministry of Justice) within the framework of the NCSJ. Amongst other things, the Taskforce will explore how legal services regulation can be used to prevent or mitigate SLAPPs and draw up training for judges and law professionals to help them identify and throw out SLAPPs more easily.

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