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SoE: Greater protection needed in Powers Bill

14 December 2015


The Executive Director of the Society of Editors has called for greater protection for journalistic material to be added to the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

Giving evidence to the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill Select Committee on Monday, Bob Satchwell said that the provisions in the current draft did not go far enough in ensuring that journalists' sources would be protected and that it was unacceptable that the media would be given no prior notification nor the right to appeal once a request to access journalistic information was put forward.

Satchwell argued that at least the same provisions currently used in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to safeguard journalistic material should be included in the legislation and that the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to access such information was evidence of how legislation often intended for one purpose was then ultimately used for another.

He added: "The protections do not go far enough. The difficulty is that while we have interim measures in place, RIPA was used in certain cases to get round the good safeguards that are in PACE.

"It was the will of parliament that RIPA was legislation to fight terrorism. It is very important to ensure that legislation is not misused.

"What the current proposals require is an understanding that the first rule of journalism is that you protect your sources. What we have had in the past is a complete lack of understanding by certain police forces who rode roughshod over that principle."

The current bill states that law enforcement applications to find the source of information given to a journalist must only be granted if a court order is obtained from a "judicial commissioner" and follows provisions temporarily put in place earlier this year following industry condemnation of the use of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to obtain the identity of journalists' sources.

Industry concern remains that despite guarantees that access to information that would identify sources would require a warrant, Home Secretaries will have the ability to sign an "urgent" warrant without seeking judicial approval and that there is still no requirement set out in the legislation for prior notification to be given to the subject of a request.

The official proposals follow interim measures put in place earlier this year after it was discovered that the Metropolitan Police had obtained the phone records of The Sun's Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn in its pursuit of the identity of a police source in the Plebgate case.

Satchwell argued that giving the media the opportunity to make its case as to why information should not be accessed was essential in defining the legislation.

He added: "There has to be an opportunity for media organisations to explain their case. It is very important to know when the police or security services are asking for information and that journalists have the ability to argue their case as to why it should not be accessed."

Satchwell went on to say that journalists were aware of their duty not to threaten national security and that provisions were already in place for legal privilege to be lost if journalists were engaging in work outside of the public interest. The media took this seriously, for example, by its willingness to co-operate with the Defence, Security and Media Advisory Notice System in not publishing anything that would have a detrimental effect on national security, he said. 

He added: "I have never known of a journalist that would put someone's life or national security at risk inadvertantly. There need to be clear procedures and rules if someone is seeking to invade journalists activities and rules. What has happened more recently is that some organisations rode roughshod over a principle that we thought was accepted."

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