“No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information. It is the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Today marks World Press Freedom Day. Founded in 1993 by the UN General Assembly, 3 May is an annual celebration that serves as an opportunity to acknowledge the importance of press freedom, assess the global state of the free press and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives.
Newspapers invest significant resources in investigations, both in time and money. We explore some of the recent stories that have had a big impact for people in the UK and beyond:
The Observer began to publish its ‘Cambridge Analytica Files’ in early 2018, uncovering a major scandal that the political consulting firm harvested the data of millions of Facebook users without consent and used it for political gain. Subsequently, Facebook’s share prices fell, it forced investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress. People’s relationships with data privacy has now completely changed.
Through extensive campaigning, The Sun and The Daily Mail challenged the parole board’s recommendation for rapist John Worboys to be set free, exposing major flaws in the justice system. The publications wrote to the board, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor David Gauke threatening to launch legal action unless they publicised the report that led to the board’s decision to release Worboys. The chairman of the parole board later resigned as the high court overturned the decision to free Worboys. The UK parole system is set to be completely overhauled.
Led by Amelia Gentleman, the investigation into people – mostly from Caribbean countries – who had been wrongly detained, deported or denied legal rights sent shock waves throughout the country, putting the issue firmly on the political agenda. As a result, the Prime Minister gave a public apology, the then Home Secretary resigned after misleading parliament and it prompted a wider debate about immigration policy. The government also recently announced it would pay up to £200 million in compensation to help those affected by the scandal.
In February 2018, The Times’ front page read “Top Oxfam staff paid Haiti survivors for sex”. The article claimed that Oxfam failed to disclose details of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviour by staff while employed to help Haitians in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010. The story gained global attention and led to the resignation of high-profile Oxfam employees. Later that year, the charity struggled with public and government confidence that ultimately led to cuts in staff and programmes, as well as a review of its internal practices.
As a result of a gagging order placed on the paper by Sir Philip Green, the paper’s bold front cover showed a picture of a silhouette with the headline reading “The British #MeToo scandal which cannot be revealed.” The coverage of the story shone light on the use of NDAs in cases of sexual allegation to protect perpetrators and, once the case was dropped, revealed the harassment former employees had endured. The story dominated headlines for weeks, led to renewed calls for Green’s knighthood to be stripped and sparked a social media boycott of Topshop.
The law on organ donation in the UK is set to change, thanks to a campaign by the Daily Mirror. The new ‘opt out’ system will come into effect in spring 2020 and experts predict that it could save up to 700 lives a year by increasing the number of organs available. The Daily Mirror campaign featuring Max Johnson, played a significant role in raising awareness of the need for increased organ donation. The Prime Minister commented: “The Mirror’s campaign is a big reason we are closer to passing Max’s Law, inspired by a very brave young man.”
Without press freedom, these cases and many others would not be in the public domain. They show the value of a free press and the impact it has on the many different facets of people’s lives. It is a key pillar of democracy and protecting it is vital.
As Geordie Greig said at Newsworks’ Shift North event: “Newsbrands hold power to account; they shine a light in dark places, question, uncover and reveal.”