Dec. 20, 2017 – Reporters Without Borders – known internationally as Reporters sans frontières (RSF) – condemns the proceedings filed by offshore law firm Appleby against the BBC and the Guardian, suing for breach of confidence. Appleby has requested the disclosure of documents that informed reports published as part of the Paradise Papers – a leak of 13.4 million files exposing the offshore interests of a myriad of prominent individuals and companies.
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Around half of the leaked documents belonged to Appleby, which claims that the source information used in the reports was “stolen,” and is seeking a permanent injunction to stop further use of the information. A spokesperson for the Guardian said the lawsuit was “an attempt to undermine our responsible public interest journalism and to force us to to disclose documents that we regard as journalistic material.”
Despite the fact that the Paradise Papers were analysed by 381 journalists from 96 media outlets in 67 countries around the world, according to the Guardian, Appleby has launched proceedings only against the Guardian and the BBC, which have both stated they will fight the legal action in court.
“Appleby’s legal action against the BBC and the Guardian could serve as yet another serious blow to investigative journalism in the UK. The information published in the Paradise Papers is overwhelmingly in the public interest. The media’s right to inform, and the public’s right to be informed, must be protected as a matter of priority,” said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.
These proceedings are even more troubling when viewed in the context of other worrying moves to restrict press freedom in the UK, such as the adoption of the Investigatory Powers Act – the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history – and the Law Commission’s proposal for a new ‘Espionage Act’ that could see journalists jailed for obtaining leaked information.
The UK is ranked 40th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.