Anti-spying law risks curbing freedom of Press, warn peers
An Anti-sPying law that could jeopardise Press freedom faces major challenges in Parliament today.
the national security Bill puts journalists investigating serious scandals at risk of being jailed for up to 14 years if their activities are deemed to assist foreign intelligence agencies.
it would also have the effect of deterring insiders from coming forward, it is feared, and mean that important stories such as the Mail’s expose of bullying and sexual harassment of women in the royal navy would never see the light of day.
Ministers insist the media is not the intended target of the legislation and have tried to allay concerns by making it clear reporters will not be targeted for ‘unwittingly’ helping hostile states.
But politicians and lawyers as well as news publishers believe the changes do not go far enough to protect the free Press.
Today senior peers will launch attempts to ensure that bona fide journalists are shielded from the effects of the law, which is meant to bring the official secrets Act into the era of hi-tech espionage.
one amendment will be tabled by media executive Lord Black of Brentwood and has powerful cross-party support from Labour’s Lord stevenson of Balmacara, tory former leader of the Lords Baroness stowell of Beeston and non-affiliated Lord Faulks, chairman of the independent Press standards organisation.
it would add to the Bill the defence that ‘the person ... was acting with a view to publication of material by a recognised news publisher’. Lord Black has warned that the wide definitions used in the draft legislation ‘could potentially criminalise one of the core functions of journalism: reporting on leaks... about governments, organisations and companies’.
Baroness stowell, who chairs the Lords communications committee, warned: ‘We must not legislate in a way that risks journalists not legitimately exposing serious failings or wrongdoing by government or public servants.’
separately, green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb will try to protect journalists by specifying that only those following orders from a foreign power should face prosecution under the law.
Her amendment, signed by leading barrister Lord Pannick KC, states that an offence will only take place ‘if the conduct... is instigated by or under the direction and control of a foreign power’. Downing street said the amendments would be considered carefully.