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NUJ wins safeguards for journalists in the Digital Economy Bill

9 February 2017

Helen Goodman, chair of the NUJ's Parliamentary Group, has won assurances from the government that changes will be made to proposed legislation which will safeguard journalists sharing information in the public interest and protect whistleblowers.

During the passage of the Digital Economy Bill in the House of Commons, the MP for Bishop Auckland pointed out that as the legislation stood if a whistleblower were to leak the records of a private company to a journalist without authorisation and the journalist ran a story based on this, both parties could receive criminal sentences.  

Matt Hancock, the minister responsible for digital and culture policy, said that had not been the intention of the bill and wrote to Helen Goodman saying: "The Government does not want to curtail freedom of speech or the legal rights of whistleblowers to make protected disclosures. To put this matter beyond doubt we will table amendments at Lords Committee stage in order to ensure that our policy is fully reflected." 

The Government has now amended the bill to include a defence for publication of information for the purposes of journalism, where the publication of the information is in the public interest.

Helen Goodman said:

“Whistleblowers and journalists need to be protected from the new restrictions on the distribution of certain information that are introduced in the Bill. The National Union of Journalists said many of their members were very worried that left without the right amendments, the Bill would essentially gag journalists and set a very dangerous precedent.
"As such, I am very pleased to hear that the minister of state for digital and culture has conceded on this point. This is a great victory for freedom of the press and of speech, both of which are vital for democracy. I will continue to monitor the bill to ensure that these measures are as robust as promised.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"Following the disastrous Investigatory Powers Act, the Digital Economy Bill appeared to be yet another assault of journalists' rights and press freedom, so we welcome changes to the bill. However, we still have some concerns and will be working with Helen Goodman and other members of  the Parliamentary Group to ensure the amendments will fully protect our members."

Letter from the minister

Tags: , helen goodman, parliament uk, digital economy bill, public interest, whistleblowers, matt hancock, investigative journalism