Reporter fears ‘open season’ on journalists after being served with harassment warning for questioning fraudster

A reporter who was served with a harassment warning for approaching a convicted fraudster for comment has spoken of fears that authorities believe it’s “open season” on journalists.

Reporter: Gareth Davies

Gareth Davies, chief reporter at the Croydon Advertiser, was given a “prevention of harassment notice” by three Metropolitan police officers after he approached Neelam Desai for comment as part of an investigation. Desai will be sentenced later this month after pleading guilty to fraud.

According to Davies, one police officer told him: “You say you were just doing your job, but that’s what the News of the World and the phone hackers said.”

Davies described events as “frustrating” and said he was left with the impression that some police officers felt like “it’s open season for journalists”.

The Croydon Advertiser has now brought in lawyers in a bid to have the warning withdrawn, while human rights and media organisations have expressed serious concern about the implications for free press.

Index on Censorship said the police must show they “fully respect” the role of a free media and Liberty described the warning as “chilling”.

Earlier this year, a report showed the British public’s trust of the media had plummeted to an all-time low in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and subsequent Leveson Inquiry into press ethics.

While the public cited lack of press regulation as a factor, domestic and international media organisations have warned that the backlash against the press could restrict journalists’ ability to do their jobs and have a detrimental effect on press freedom.

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