NUJ calls for no detrimental changes to official secrets laws
The NUJ has responded to the Law Commission’s consultation on reforming official secrets legislation, arguing robustly that editorial matters relating to national security, official secrets and the public interest are decisions best left to journalists. The union has expressed strong opposition to the measures currently proposed including making it easier to prosecute journalists and increasing the likelihood of conviction. The union maintains that media workers should never be criminalised for upholding long-standing ethical principles that are enshrined in the NUJ code of conduct.
Séamus Dooley, NUJ acting general secretary, said: “We have provided the Law Commission with ample evidence of past instances where the legislation has been used to threaten or silence journalists who have been reporting in the public interest. We have also demonstrated that NUJ members have a long and proud history of defending the public’s right to know.
“We hope many of the recommendations made by the Law Commission will be abandoned. However, if the authorities continue to pursue legal reforms then they should support our calls for the introduction of a public interest defence for journalists and journalism.”
The NUJ submission is attached for information and a summary of the key points are below:
- The examples contained within the NUJ submission show journalists who have been threatened with the official secrets laws in the past have not harmed public safety or national security
- Journalists who obtain or gather information should not be deemed to be committing an espionage offence
- There should be a public interest defence for disclosures and for the publication or republication of classified/protected data received from whistleblowers and/or sources
- There should be a defence of prior publication where the information published has either been lawfully placed in the public domain or has already been widely disseminated
- There should be no detrimental changes to the need to prove damage and causing further damage
- Prison sentences should not be increased to 14 years
- The authorities should prevent the use of journalists as intelligence agents or cover.
NUJ senior campaigns and communications officer