Counter Terrorism: Government Puts Forward New Journalistic Protections

The Government has put forward new journalistic protections for the counter terror regime after concerns were raised by the News Media Media Association about the threat to journalists reporting on important issues such as terrorism, extremism, and national security. 

This week, the Government tabled amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill creating journalistic exemptions for the new offences of viewing terrorist material online and travelling to area designated a terrorist threat to UK. 

The NMA has been campaigning in recent weeks to highlight the threat to journalism posed by the new regime, highlighting these two new offences as areas of particular concern because they could lead to journlaists researching terrorism for stories in the public interest being prosecuted.  

The NMA urged peers to vote for the new Government amendments but said that it was still concerned about other aspects ogf the Bill  such as the draconian powers for border officials to stop, question and seize property from people entering and leaving the country. 

These powers can be exercised without reasonable suspicion and at a threshold below the prevention of illegal activity – posing a threat to journalists’ sources.  

The NMA said: “We recommend amending the Bill to prohibit examining officers from viewing confidential journalistic material prior to its being viewed and assessed by the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, in consultation with the affected parties. In urgent cases, whatever expedited process is put in place must not permit the access and use of confidential material prior to review by the IPC.

“We also recommend that the safeguards of prior independent oversight and inter partes hearings are applied to all journalistic material seized under these powers, mirroring the long-standing prohibition on warrantless searches of journalists set out in PACE.”

In a briefing to ahead of Monday’s debate, the NMA urged peers to introduce an intent requirement or exemption for journalism to a new offence of publishing an image that would raise suspicion that an individual is a member of a proscribed organisation.

The NMA concluded: “An objection that is sometimes raised to having specific journalistic safeguards in national security legislation is that “anyone can claim they are a journalist.” This is not the case.

“Officials can test the bona fides of anyone claiming to be a journalist and there is already longstanding experience of doing so, from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, right up to the latest code published last week under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.

“The risk of someone wrongfully passing themselves off as a journalist has been anticipated and navigated in earlier legislation and is therefore no justification for dispensing with those safeguards altogether.”