Yesterday the news broke that the Metropolitan Police were demanding the handover of documents relating to the source of information used in the Guardian’s Milly Dowler phone-hacking story. In an extraordinary and outrageous move they have resorted to using the Official Secrets Act to get the information!It’s an unprecedented legal attack on journalists’ sources, and has been condemned by the National Union of Journalists. NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said:
“This is a very serious threat to journalists and the NUJ will fight off this vicious attempt to use the Official Secrets Act to force journalists to disclose their sources on hacking. Journalists have investigated the hacking story and told the truth to the public, they should be congratulated rather than being hounded and criminalised by the state. Attempts to confiscate information provided by sources violates the freedom of the press and damages the preconditions of an open and democratic society.
Meanwhile the police claim the act, which has special powers usually aimed at espionage protecting national security, could have been breached in July when reporters Amelia Hill and Nick Davies revealed the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. They are demanding source information be handed over.
Gaurdian editor, Alan Rusbridger, said yesterday: “We shall resist this extraordinary demand to the utmost”.
Earlier this month Amelia Hill was questioned under caution by the police in connection with investigations into alleged leaks. It was a curtain raiser to their latest act and was attacked at the time by the NUJ who said: “This is a vital journalistic principle at stake here. It is outrageous that an allegation of off-the-record briefings is being treated as a criminal matter. There is a clear distinction between legitimate off-the-record interviews and the illegitimate payment of bribes.”
It’s clear that these developments mark a serious backlash by the police against these journalists. They had exposed police inadequacy and alleged collusion with the Murdoch media empire which resulted in the resignations of Metropolitan commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson and assistant commissioner John Yates. To the police it’s payback time.
The Police intend to go before a judge at the Old Bailey on 23 September, in an attempt to force the handover of documents relating to the sources of information for a number of articles, including the article published by Hill and Davies on 4 July disclosing “the interception of the telephone of Milly Dowler”.
If this action succeeds the only people to get comfort will be the Murdochs, their allies and the police themselves. Investigative journalism and the right to report will be the losers. So will our right to be informed. It is a disgrace that the police are moving against the very people who exposed the phone hacking scandal in the first place. They appear to be acting as attack dogs for the Murdochs. We must campaign hard to make sure they don’t succeed.