United Kingdom | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

19

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

7

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

7

The law provides for freedom of the press, and the government generally respects this right in practice. Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the July 7 bombings on the London Underground, the government proposed a new Terrorism Bill, which among other things includes provisions for the criminalization of forms of free speech considered by the government to be "encouragements of terrorism," even without proof of a direct link to a terrorist act. In addition, stringent libel laws remain in effect in the United Kingdom, under which the burden of proof remains with the defending publisher-in other words, guilty until proven innocent. Coupled with a judiciary that has traditionally taken a sympathetic stance toward libel claimants, this poses a threat to press freedom in the United Kingdom owing to its encouragement of self-censorship. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a libel suit originally brought by McDonald's against two British activists who had criticized McDonald's social and environmental practices. The ECHR's decision that the libel suit had violated the campaigners' right to freedom of expression came after more than nine years spent in court proceedings in Britain and a British high court ruling in favor of McDonald's.

In Northern Ireland, journalists routinely face intimidation, especially while investigating sensitive political issues. In 2005, the Sunday World was subject to paramilitary intimidation for reports that it published on the lavish lifestyle of certain Protestant armed groups, and vendors selling the Sunday World were also targeted. Investigations into the 2001 murder of journalist Martin O'Hagan have produced few results, with eight separate suspects having been arrested and released owing to lack of evidence. It is believed that O'Hagan was killed for his investigations into the cooperation among Northern Irish police, military intelligence, armed groups, and drug gangs.

British media are free and largely independent from government interference. The United Kingdom has a strong tradition of public broadcasting, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, although funded by the government, is editorially independent. Ownership of independent media outlets is concentrated in the hands of a few large companies, including those headed by Rupert Murdoch, and many of the private national papers remain aligned with political parties. Authorities may monitor internet messages and e-mail without judicial permission in the name of national security and "well-being." An estimated 63 percent of the population was able to access the internet without restriction in 2005.