Recent press reports reveal that Home Secretary Suella Braverman has ordered the controversial Bill be reviewed because of concerns about its impact on journalism https://pressgazette.co.uk/media_law/national-security-bill-journalists-public-interest-defence/ . This follows criticism from peers, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and media groups after concerns were raised about the chilling impact the measure would have on journalism.
Last Thursday the Government published amendments to the bill currently before the Lords.They include measures to protect journalistic freedoms by clarifying the scope of offences and being clearer that the law “will protect all legitimate activity”, the Home Office said.The Press Gazette reports that: “Officials said the language would be amended to make it clearer that it would need to be proved what an individual knew, eliminating the possibility that a reporter acting unwittingly could be in breach of the law. It comes after Telegraph Media Group deputy chairman Lord Black told peers last month that the legislation could have a “chilling impact on investigative journalism” due to the “heavy sentences involved” for those falling foul of the law’s spying terms.
However, missing from the changes is any reference to a public interest defence, a point emphasised in a statement made by the NUJ https://www.nuj.org.uk/resource/government-announces-new-national-security-bill-amendments.html. General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “We welcome government action in tabling amendments to the Bill that go some way to recognising the concerns raised by the NUJ and press freedom groups on thechilling effect on journalists and journalism. However we believe further action is still necessary and that the best way of ensuring journalists can properly carry out their jobs and hold power to account is through a public interest defence.”
Media industry sources, briefed about the changes, said they believed the measures were only incremental and were discussing whether to press for the introduction of a public interest defence https://www.theguardian.com/media/2023/feb/23/national-security-bill-redraft-journalism-scepticism .
The News Media Association, representing national, regional and local news media UK organisations, said it would “consider carefully” the planned changes and whether they“provide a workable solution, or if further amendments are needed to provide clarity”. They will scrutinise the new amendments to ensure the Bill does not impact upon legitimate whistle-blowers and public interest journalism. https://newsmediauk.org/blog/2023/02/23/nma-comments-on-amendments-to-national-security-bill/
The Bill is expected to complete its report stage in the Lords next week and will return to the Commons once peers have completed its third reading.
Photo: All content is available under the Open Government Licence v3.0,