Counter Terrorism: Government To Look At Additional Journalistic Protections

Ministers have agreed to look at additional protections for journalists and their sources for the new counter terrorism regime after a sustained campaign for robust measures to protect freedom of speech by the News Media Assocation.

During debates on key pieces of counter terrorism legislation the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill and the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill this week, the Government agreed to look at how concerns around the threat to journalism could be addressed.

The NMA has raised concerns around various aspects of both Bills and worked with MPs and peers from the main parties  to have them highlighted and addressed as the legislation passes through to the Houses of Parliament.

The NMA has already won key concessions including Government amendments creating journalistic exemptions for new offences of viewing terrorist material online and travelling to an area designated a terrorist threat to UK. but is still concerned around some aspects of both Bills.

This week, in a Lords debate Counter Terrorism Bill, Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said she recognised the force of the arguments for stronger protections for journalistic material that is not confidential – a key concern of the NMA – after an amendment tabled by Green peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.

The Minister said: “I will therefore ask my officials to consider if any additional protections may be introduced through the Schedule 3 codes of practice. I can undertake to keep the noble Baroness informed of progress with this work, and of course a revised version of the draft code of practice will need to come back to this House to be approved before those provisions come into force.”

In a separate debate on the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill Labour and SNP MPs tabled a series of amendments to boost journalistic safeguards by replicating protections under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, as called for by the NMA..

Home Minister Ben Wallace thanked MPs for their “detailed arguments” and “for the time that they have taken to consider the protection of journalists.”

On two key amendments – requiring notice to be given of an application for any journalistic data, not just confidential journalistic data, and another giving a journalist opportunities to make representations in relation to any application for data – the Minister said he would be “happy to consider” whether these provisions should be included in the Bill.

Another key concern of the NMA is the potential for other countries to use the legislation to bypass well-established procedures and protections in the UK, and seize journalistic information.

Debating an amendment tabled by Labour MP Nick Thomas-Symonds, Mr Wallace said it was a “valid point” but said “these conditions” could not be imposed in advance of negotiations on an international agreement.

He added: “We can do more to provide assurances about journalistic material, notification and journalists in court here, and I can give the Committee the assurance that we would enter into international agreements only where we felt there was high regard for the protection of journalists, but I do not think that safeguard needs to be in the Bill.”