Joint Committee on The Draft Corruption Bill Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Newspaper Society (DCB 8)

  As you may be aware, the Newspaper Society is the association of publishers of the local and regional press. The Society submitted a response to the Law Commission's Consultation Paper in July 1997 and many of the same issues are still pertinent. We can envisage situations in which journalists might fall foul of the provisions of the Bill. This could ensue, for example, from actions aimed at exposing the corrupt conduct of an individual or to obtain information about their employer's dubious activities—what might be termed "whistleblowing". The inducement or reward might be the promise of some small payment, travel expenses, hotel costs or lunch etc. As the director of the charity Public Concern at Work said of the 1,200 compensation claims made under the Public Interest Disclosure Act in its first three years of operation, "These cases show how much we need whistleblowers if we are to turn the tables on crime, complacency and cover-up in the workplace. With such high awards and with tribunals protecting people who blow the whistle to regulatory bodies and to the media, employers ignore this legislation at their peril".

  Our concern is that these newsgathering practices could effectively be criminalised, thereby potentially inhibiting investigative journalism. We appreciate that journalists may have a defence under sections 6 and 7 of the Bill. This could be obviated by excluding such conduct altogether from the definition of "corrupt" behaviour. Failing that or by introducing an additional public interest defence into the Bill. The Code of Practice administered by the Press Complaints Commission defines the public interest (non-exhaustively) as follows:

    (i)  Detecting or exposing crime or a serious misdemeanour;

    (ii)  Protecting public health and safety;

    (iii)  Preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of an individual or organisation.

  The definition of "conferring an advantage" in section 4 of the draft Corruption Bill would catch a wide range of business activities which are normal business practice and universally viewed as wholly unexceptionable. In the main, corporate hospitality and the provision of small gifts are intended to create a positive image of the giver: they are morally neutral. The Report Legislating the Criminal Code: Corruption (Law Com No 248, 1998) states at paragraph 5.141: "We are confident that ordinary business hospitality would not qualify as corrupt conduct under the definition we recommend". Consultation Paper asserted (at paragraph 8.52) that such hospitality is not corrupt because it "creates no substantial conflict between the recipients' interests and their duty". We do not believe that "advantages" of small value should be caught by legislation; in practice, benefits which are "de minimis" would be ignored by the authorities. There seems little merit in introducing a legislative yardstick that would not be observed. The Society is particularly concerned about potential grey areas such as free meals or holidays provided to journalists for review purposes, and "advertorials".

  I hope that these points can be taken into consideration by the Joint Committee in its discussions on the draft Corruption Bill.

May 2003

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