Media Organisations Warn Of Danger To Public Interest Journalism From National Security Bill

Media organisations, including the News Media Association, have called on government to amend the National Security Bill legislation by adding in a public interest defence. The Bill returned to the House of Commons yesterday and in its current form, is set to weaken protections against police accessing journalistic materials, media organisations have warned.

Other organisations include the Society of Editors, Index on Censorship, the National Union of Journalists, openDemocracy, and Reporters Without Borders. Most have called for a public interest defence clause to be included within the Bill. The Campaign for Freedom of Information, Article 19 and Guardian News and Media have also made submissions to government identifying serious issues with the legislation.

The NMA has repeatedly called for a statutory public interest defence clause in the Bill to ensure that individuals are not reliant on the “discretion of the Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions or Crown Prosecution Service not to bring proceedings, or upon their interpretation of guidance that can be varied at any time.”

Kevan Jones, a Labour MP, tabled an amendment that would introduce this clause to the Bill. In the Times yesterday, Mr Jones said: “This cross-party call would mean the introduction of a statutory public interest defence, which would protect individuals who are forced to break the Official Secrets Acts for the greater good.

“A structured defence tightens the law, so that only those who do the right thing are afforded greater protection and those who try to abuse the law are less likely to succeed.”

In October, NMA legal director, Sayra Tekin, wrote to Home Office Minister, Tom Tugenhat MP, warning that the current omission marks “a grave oversight” which would “threaten public accountability” and would likely have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.

A spokesperson for Guardian News and Media said: “The lack of a statutory public interest defence and the extremely harsh criminal penalties mean the draft National Security Bill threatens to chill whistleblowing, undermining public access to information and the democratic role of high quality journalism in the UK.

“It is vital that the government follows the advice of its own Law Commission and places a statutory public interest defence at the heart of the bill in order to protect public interest journalism and freedom of expression.”

The National Security Bill has reached the last stages in the House of Commons and is scheduled to pass to the House of Lords for its second reading on 6 December.