Following news that police arrested the sixteenth person in connection with the News of the World phone hacking investigation on Wednesday, a couple of journalists on both sides of the scandal are pushing back. The Guardian reports, "Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World and the prime minister's former personal communications director, is reportedly refusing to appear before the Commons select committee that is investigating phone-hacking. … citing 'concerns' about 'parallel inquiries and investigations and the publicity generated by them.'"
The timing of Coulson's objection comes as the investigation is broadening to include journalists not suspected of phone hacking. Police recently questioned Amelia Hill, a reporter who's been covering the scandal for The Guardian, about her relationship with police sources. Hill's colleagues now worry that the police might seek to restrict or even criminalize off-the-record sources.
"There is a vital journalistic principle at stake here," National Union of Journalists' general secretary, Michelle Stanistreet told The Guardian. "It is outrageous that an allegation of off-the-record briefings is being treated as a criminal matter. There is a clear distinction between legitimate off-the-record interviews and the illegitimate payment of bribes. In this case the allegation is simply that a Scotland Yard detective is an off-the-record source."
The heightened concerns serve as a reminder that the United Kingdom is indeed trudging through an existential battle over freedom of the press laws. The same society that prompted George Orwell to write 1984 has also recently showed signs of wanting to limit if not censor social media. While some journalists have clearly overstepped their bounds in pursuing stories, it seems like others will have to fight to keep the inevitable new regulations reasonable.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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