Is this the next phase in the decline of democratic freedoms?
Controversial changes to official secrets laws could put journalists in jail for 14 years for reporting on leaked documents. Now backsliding is growing toward “reforms” that treat reporters similar to spies.
More than 10,000 people have signed a petition to demand that the Home Office, led by Priti Patel, take a step back on its Official Secrets reforms, which ministers say will bring rules on filing secret documents at age 21.S t century. The media and civil liberties groups say the reforms will have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.
In a statement to supporters, campaign group 38 Degrees wrote: “Plans to reform the Official Secrets Act could mean that stories that are in the public interest are not disclosed and are hugely damaging to democracy in the UK.
“The government just announced this and they are already facing massive pushback. Boris Johnson even took the step of directly contradict your Home Secretary.
“Clearly, the Prime Minister agrees that it is vital to democracy that journalists are able to report on issues that are in the public interest, and we must ensure that we keep their word on this promise.”
One signatory wrote: “Questioning and uncovering the incompetence or corruption of politicians is not against national security. On the contrary, it protects it. “
Another wrote: “If the government doesn’t want to embarrass itself, it should stop acting shamefully. Simple. “
While ministers have tried to defend the planned changes as vital to national security, this follows a series of embarrassing leaks, including CCTV footage that led to the resignation of Health Secretary Matt Hancock last month.
As journalist Paul Lashmar wrote last week: “Many lawyers, legislators and journalists have argued that laws relating to official and secret data are in need of update to adapt to a world where espionage and leaks are largely done through new technologies. But a detailed reading One of the new proposals suggests that the agenda is as much to deter journalists, whistleblowers and sources from embarrassing the government and intelligence agencies.
“The words” journalist “and” journalism “now appear there in the main text, and” press “only twice, yet the proposals implicitly confuse the survey of journalism with spying from hostile states. They recommend (about 38 times) prosecuting those who make “unauthorized disclosures,” which would include government sources speaking to journalists, and increasing prison terms from two to 14 years. “
Journalists and the independent Law Commission have called for an exemption from reforms that protect journalists.
The ministers are also promoting the Police Bill, which according to opponents will penalize the protest considered a ‘nuisance’ by the authorities, as well as legislation that will exclude those without identification from the vote.
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Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.
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