Prime Minister Says Official Secrets Act Reform Must Not Interfere With Journalism

Boris Johnson has said that any reform of the Official Secrets Act must not “interrupt the operation of good journalism and bringing new and important facts into the public domain.”

In an interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC yesterday, the Prime Minister said he did not want to live in a world in which people were prosecuted for acting in the public interest.  

Under the proposals to reform the Official Secrets Act, the bar for prosecuting both journalists and whistle-blowers would be lowered and tough new penalties including lengthy prison sentences would be introduced.

The News Media Assocation has warned that the resulting deterrent to publication created by these changes would be so powerful that stories in the public interest, such as those cited by the Prime Minister in his LBC interview, may never see the light of day,.

Asked during the interview with Nick Ferrari whether the public interest outweighs “just about anything,” the Prime Minister agreed.

Speaking about reform of the Official Secrets Act, he said: “What we want to do is make sure that we don’t do anything to interrupt the operation of good journalism and bringing new and important facts into the public domain.”

He added: “A lot of the best and most important stories, whether they are Watergate or thalidomide or whatever, come from tainted sources – let me put it like that – or come from a source that has no business putting that out into the public domain.”

This week, News Media Association chief executive Owen Meredith wrote to the Home Secretary Priti Patel to explain the industry’s concerns around the proposals, pointing to the contradiction with the repeated statements from Ministers about the importance of journalism to society.

Mr Meredith said: “It is imperative that the Government changes course on these reforms, otherwise public interest journalism could be irretrievably damaged, delivering a hammer blow to freedom of speech and the public right to know.

“In addition to abandoning the measures which would criminalise journalists and whistle blowers, a public interest defence should be introduced to the regime to protect freedom of speech.”