The decision by a High Court judge to lift reporting restrictions in a case concerning a convicted robber is an important victory for Press freedom. Mr Justice Gillen refused Brendan Conway an injunction against the Sunday World and ruled that "it is in the public interest that investigative journalism should not be impeded where it is publishing legitimate information concerning serious criminal activity". Conway had claimed that he had been vilified and harassed by a series of allegedly sensationalist and false articles, but the judge praised the newspaper for acting "with all the accusatory fervour of unflinching and unsparing investigative journalism".
He added, "it is not for the courts to unduly restrict the discretion vested in editors as to how they present their stories".
The Sunday World was strongly backed by the Belfast Telegraph, UTV and the BBC, and the newspaper was correct to assert that the imposition of a ban on Conway's alleged activities would have a detrimental effect on media attempts to expose the underworld of drugs and violence in our society. If the injunction had been successful, it would have muzzled the media.
This victory goes to the core of what the media is, or should, be about – namely, shining light in dark corners, and keeping the public informed about activities which they would not normally know about. There has been much controversy recently, with allegations of phone-hacking overshadowing the good work newspapers and other media outlets do. It is particularly important, therefore, that when a senior judge comes down clearly on the side of a free Press when dealing with a landmark case, it is widely publicised.
The media are by no means blameless, and it is important mistakes are acknowledged and blame accepted where it belongs, but it also important that journalists are given the full backing of the law where they are judged by law to be working rightly in the public interest. That is one of the major strengths of our democratic society.