NMA Writes to Minister Over Counter Terrorism Concerns

The News Media Association has written to Home Office Minister Ben Wallace over concerns that provisions in the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill could criminalise journalists researching public interest stories about terrorism.

The NMA has previously warned that legitimate reporting on terrorism could be endangered if viewing terrorism videos three or more times on the internet was made a criminal office, as proposed in the Bill.

In a letter to Mr Wallace explaining the problems, the NMA said the relevant clause was poorly drafted and relying on the defence of reasonable excuse for viewing the material would result in the burden on the defendant rather than the prosecution.

Kerry Nicholson, NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs advisor, said: “The purpose of the criminal law is not to criminalise everything that could potentially be harmful, and then leave it up to the defendant to convince the court that there was good reason for their behaviour. 

“Whether or not someone is prosecuted for a crime should not rely on the discretion of the CPS and judges, but on well drafted legislation that carefully targets specific harmful behaviour. We are pleased that you recognise that improvements are necessary, and we welcome your statement that you will be in discussions with the member for Torfaen on how to make these improvements.”  

The Bill also contains provisions for new border stop and search powers which could endanger journalistic sources, the NMA warned.

Kerry said: “You have provided assurances that journalistic material will be protected because the examining officer would have to apply to the Judicial Commissioner for that material to be further examined. 

“However, you also said that the examining officer ‘should be within their rights to verify’ whether material consists of confidential material ‘if they feel it is appropriate.’  We welcome the recognition that journalistic material needs formal protection and would be very happy to meet to discuss how this could best be achieved in practice without frustrating the aim of the Bill.”