There’s a new sheriff running things in the UK.
Over the past few days, Theresa May has been accused of running a brutal crackdown on journalists, jailing hundreds and harassing and threatening journalists. The British Prime Minister made headlines in June when she called for new laws which would criminalize “disseminating” libel “with malicious intent.” Today, she’s accused of acting like a dictator. “I have just taken the first step on a road to political tyranny,” wrote former Foreign Minister David Miliband. And the UK is on the brink of an existential crisis. While some have called for her to resign, British newspapers are refusing to issue her with credentials.
In recent weeks, she has issued edicts regarding press freedom and freedom of expression. She also threatened to jail journalists who “publicly insult” her by publishing information about sensitive government officials. At other times, she has called for the prosecution of people with views she does not approve of. In the midst of this turmoil, her government ordered the closure of more than a dozen local press outlets and threatened to sack or jail more than 100 news agencies.
There can be no doubt that May is acting like a dictator. Her actions and omissions violate multiple laws on freedom of speech, including the Defamation Act of 2005 that established the right to libel, the Press Complaints Commission Directive 2003 and the Communication Decency Act 1997. It goes without saying that these laws were designed to punish actions that had a chilling effect on free thought and expression. The British public has been calling for May to resign for a week now.
Yet, there has been some confusion about what this means for freedom of the press in the UK and in the United States. As the press in the United States becomes more important and less reliant on government for revenue, the government has become less willing to provide press credentials as they become less necessary. Some of May’s most vocal critics, like former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, claim that the government has gone too far. Others, like Sen. John McCain, think the British government is simply trying to silence its critics. In the last week, both of them have expressed their disagreement.
May’s crackdown on press freedom may be controversial but in its consequences, the government may be the only reliable provider of press credentials to reporters in the United States.
As I explained in an article called “How Journalists Can Now Survive in a Society Filled with Censorship,” the current system
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