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NUJ will robustly defend the latest attempt to curtail press freedom

13 February 2017

The National Union of Journalists will be robustly defending the rights of its members who face being criminalised for doing their jobs under proposals to update the Official Secrets Act.
The Law Commission has recommended that journalists could be subject to lengthy jail terms, of up to 14 years, under a new definition of espionage which includes obtaining sensitive information, as well as passing it on. Journalists who receive secret information could find themselves prosecuted for simply doing their job.
Other recommendations by the commission fundamentally undermine the right of journalists to disclose information in the public interest. Whistleblowers will also receive draconian punishments for coming forward with information that could be in the public's right to know.
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The ramifications of these recommendations are huge for journalists and freedom of the press. Journalists face being criminalised for simply doing their job and the public's right to know will be severely curtailed by these proposals. The union will respond robustly to the Law Commission's consultation on changes to the Official Secrets Act.
"This union is deeply concerned at yet another attempt by the UK government to curtail the media. The Investigatory Powers Act has put journalists' sources at risk now that a large number of authorities have the power to intercept reporters' emails, mobile phone and computer records. We have plenty of evidence that some police forces routinely used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to get their hands on journalists' records without their knowledge. The NUJ is also concerned that the Digital Economy Bill, now in Parliament, threatens to undermine journalists sharing information in the public interest.
"Don't forget it was the present Prime Minister Theresa May who was the 'Big Sister’ and original architect of the Snoopers' Charter. We need to protect the public from a government which seems intent on threatening journalists from finding information the government finds inconvenient to be exposed. Democracy is under attack when a government does all it can to do its business in secret."

Helen Goodman MP, chair of the NUJ's cross-party Parliamentary Group, said:

“It beggars belief that in a democratic country the government has been advised to implement measures which would render leaking and whistleblowing as heinous a crime as spying, even if the action was taken in the public interest.  
“Implementing these Orwellian measures would effectively gag journalists, severely restrict the freedom of the press and hinder the scrutiny of powerful institutions. I urge the government not to introduce these dangerous proposals which threaten our basic democratic freedoms.”

Law Commission consultation

Guardian: Government advisers accused of 'full-frontal attack' on whistleblowers 
Telegraph: Another salvo has been fired at serious journalism – the government must stop these attacks

Tags: , law commission, official secrets act, press freedom, digital economy bill, journalists' rights, theresa may, surveillance, espionage, legislation