CFOM Seminar Series Recordings 2023/24


Legal consultant and editor of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, Gill Phillips, discusses current threats to journalists

In the first of the Centre for Freedom of the Media’s (CFOM) online seminar series, legal consultant Gill Phillips talks about existential and practical threats to journalists and journalism including issues surrounding AI, social media and fake news. Gill also discusses legal issues that journalists face including Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, censorship and source protection.

Gill joined the BBC from private practice in 1987. She dealt with all the pre- and post- transmission aspects of broadcasting, including advising programme departments (both TV and Radio) on a whole range of pre- and post- publication media law-issues including libel, contempt, court-reporting, disclosure of sources, breach of confidence and the Official Secrets Act. She then moved to the The Sun and the News of the World, and later to the Times and Sunday Times dealing with pre-publication issues and post publication complaints and claims. Gill moved to Guardian News & Media as the Director of Editorial Legal in May 2009, where she advised on phone-hacking, Wikileaks, the Leveson Inquiry, the NSA leaks from Edward Snowden and many other data leak and investigative series. She retired as GNM’s Editorial Legal Director in June 2023, and remains as a legal consultant for them. She is a co-editor for the 27th Edition of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, due out in 2024.


Jessica White, Senior Research Analyst at Freedom House, discusses Freedom House’s recent report Reviving News Media in an Embattled Europe

Amid the twin forces of democratic backsliding and digital disruption, news outlets are having to find new ways to sustain and defend independent reporting. This seminar will delve into findings from Freedom House’s most recent report, Reviving News Media in an Embattled Europe. Based on a series of interviews with journalists and media experts in Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, lead researcher Jessica White shines a light on the strategies that independent newsrooms are developing to address issues of financial viability, engage younger and more diverse audiences, promote trust, and defend themselves against threats that undermine and stifle their work. These responses can inform broader policy approaches to reviving news media’s role as a core component of a healthy democracy.

Jessica White leads research for Freedom House’s new stream of work on Media and Democracy, with a focus on Europe. She formerly served as research analyst for Freedom on the Net, Freedom House’s annual survey of internet freedom in 70 countries around the world. Prior to joining Freedom House, Jessica supported international engagement and programming at the Royal Society of Arts in London, the British Embassy in Madrid and the National Democratic Institute in Washington, DC. She holds a master’s degree in international development from Sciences Po in Paris.


Senior Research Fellow, Diana Maynard, discusses the development of a dashboard to monitor and understand the online abuse journalists face

Gender-based online violence against women journalists is one of the biggest contemporary threats to press freedom globally. This talk describes a dashboard we are developing for monitoring and exploring relevant social media data, as well as some findings in the form of recently published big data case studies investigating online violence targeted at a number of emblematic women journalists from around the world. In order to conduct this large scale analysis of online abuse, we have developed NLP tools to identify and characterise online abuse from Twitter targeted at specific individuals, with the ultimate aim of developing an “early warning system” to help predict the escalation of online abuse into offline harm and violence, based on indicators from the analysis. The dashboard we have developed provides a rich understanding of abuse towards one or more journalists, but also comparisons between different journalists over time, and indicators of factors such as coordinated abusive behaviour, gaslighting, or potential for escalation to offline harm. Finally, we present a set of indicators we have developed that signify potential escalation of abuse, and some guidelines for monitoring violence against women journalists.

Dr Diana Maynard is a Senior Research Fellow in the Computer Science department at the University of Sheffield, UK. She has a PhD in Natural Language Processing (NLP) and has more than 30 years of experience in the field. Since 2000 she has been one of the key developers of the GATE NLP toolkit, leading work on Sheffield’s open-source multilingual text analysis tools. Her main research interests are in practical, multidisciplinary approaches to text and social media analysis, in a wide range of fields including cultural heritage, human rights, law, journalism, sustainability and the environment, geography, politics, and natural disasters. She is currently working on various projects based around the detection and analysis of online hate speech, including methods for removing bias in Machine Learning, and for early warning detection of abuse escalation.

Political and Legal Side of Lies and Truths

Research Professor at Comenius University in Bratislava, Andrei Richter, discusses the national and international law on lies and truths in political speech.

This presentation will raise questions on the political and legal side of lies and truths: 1) Is there a human right to [know] the truth? (2) Is there a human right to [disseminate] lies? They are important issues today as the governments in too many parts of the world aim to suppress political voices by ostracising and outlawing disinformation in communications and the media. This started in the context of countering COVID-19 conspiracies and anti-vax movements, but has generally been designed to tackle any socially important information.

On the other hand, the world indeed stands bewildered at the current outbursts of false news and the general search for ways and means to diminish their social harm. We shall discuss what the national and international law says on lies and truths in political speech. 

Rethinking Media Freedom Guarantees: What Is Wrong with International Law?

Carmen Draghici, Professor of Law at City, University of London, discusses the loopholes in the international protection of media freedom. 

This seminar examines the loopholes in the international protection of media freedom. General freedom of expression provisions (in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and regional human-rights conventions) do not reflect journalists’ constant exposure to risks of attacks on account of their profession and its impact on mass audiences. Humanitarian law also fails to acknowledge journalists’ distinctiveness in armed conflict: unlike other civilians, they do not seek refuge away from combat zones, and are often targeted to prevent scrutiny over the conduct of hostilities. The only norms directly concerned with journalists’ rights are contained in authoritative but non-binding resolutions of UNESCO, the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, and regional bodies. To some extent, media-specific legal guarantees (respect for the confidentiality of sources, effective investigation and punishment of private acts of harassment against journalists etc.) have been developed by (quasi)judicial treaty bodies in the margins of free speech provisions. While States parties to human-rights treaties recognise the interpretative competence of monitoring bodies and hence principles crystallised in decisions against other States, there is no explicit binding catalogue of media rights. Additionally, under human rights treaties, the right of the audience to receive information is recognised but unenforceable; complaints may only be brought by the immediate victims (the journalists), and those may be barred by self-censorship or death. The seminar explores the potential codification of media-specific norms, based on soft law and case law, in a single dedicated legal instrument, with its independent monitoring mechanism, as a prerequisite for effective enforcement. In particular, it discusses the recent campaign of the International Federation of Journalists, the largest global media NGO, for the adoption of an International Convention on the Safety and Independence of Journalists and Other Media Professionals. Please email for a copy of this presentation. 


Dr Aurora Herrera discusses how media laws, economic censorship and threats to life influence levels of media freedom and an index for measuring media freedom in Trinidad and Tobago

Many media freedom indexes used in research and policy making are based on a Western scale of media freedom. Moreover, Caribbean countries are simply labelled as and included in the “Americas” group when research and discussions around media freedom arise in this area of the globe. Journalism culture and media freedom in this region are based on unique and nuanced  circumstances and cannot be measured by a blanket index created by foreign institutions. These indexes obscure the real extent of censorship and control that happens, preventing key action towards media freedom. A nine month ethnographic study was conducted to observe the journalism culture within six newsrooms focusing on three newspapers and three television stations. In addition, ninety-three in depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with journalists who worked within those newsrooms to find out how they defined their own culture. Research findings revealed that media laws, economic censorship and threats to life influence levels of media freedom.