Publishers and press organisations have written to Simon Hughes,Minister for Justice and Civil Liberties, explaining the critical need for a journalistic exemption from draft European data protection regulations.

The letter, signed by News UK, Telegraph Media Group, The Guardian, Associated Newspapers, News Media Association, Society of Editors, Professional Publishers Association, and the Media Lawyers Association says that without an exemption specifically protecting journalistic data from the draft General Data Protection Regulation journalists and publishers would unable to “carry out their vital democratic function.”

The letter states:

“We trust that the UK government will offer its full support to a robust, directly applicable and legally binding mandatory exemption specifically protecting journalistic data in Article 80 of the GDPR. This was originally proposed by the European Commission and would mirror the exemption granted under the current Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.

“Such a mandatory exemption for data protection is vital to ensure that journalists and publishers are able to carry out their vital democratic function. Without a journalistic exemption that role is threatened. Member States’ national libel, defamation, privacy and other media laws already govern publishers, and are set against the fundamental rights guaranteed in each Member State.

Protection for journalism and press freedom

“Up until now, the only text we had seen from the Council to amend Article 80 of the GDPR did not ensure this minimum guarantee for a specific exemption for journalistic material. Its removal would dilute the protection for journalism and press freedom and a broad reference to freedom of speech in an introduction would not provide comparable protection.

“Although the United Kingdom has a long history of support for freedom of expression, a freedom that underpins our democratic society, our concerns also relate to other Member States where cultures and practices may not have such underpinnings. Member states may implement restrictions that have direct impact on our journalists as they travel around the EU, putting them at risk and limiting their ability to gather information in order to discharge their obligations as watchdogs and report.  

“We therefore urge you to ensure that a mandatory journalistic exemption is explicitly included and legally binding on all Member States.”

Article 80 is likely to be under discussion by the Justice Ministers of member states of the Justice Council on 5 December.