Declassified UK journalists complain of being “blacklisted” by second govt department

Posted on: December 2, 2020 by Claire Meadows

A journalist at the Foreign Policy website Declassified UK has said that he has evidence of being “blacklisted” by a second government department this year.

The latest complaint comes after the website accused the Ministry of Defence of having “blacklisted” the site in September 2020 which led the Council of Europe to accuse the government of threatening press freedom. Following the earlier incident, the Society of Editors wrote to the Ministry of Defence seeking clarification that it was not the official policy of the MOD to single out UK news organisations for favourable or unfavourable treatment. Declassified later received an apology by the Ministry following the incident and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed that an independent review would take place into the allegations.

Writing on its website, Declassified said that internal emails from GCHQ had showed the organisation had decided it ‘will not be engaging further’ with Matt Kennard, Declassified’s head of investigations, the day he published what the agency privately disparaged as a ‘negative long-read’ about its secretive schools programme.

After months of trying and failing to engage with its press office, Kennard had put in a subject access request for personal data held on him by the intelligence agency. The emails he received, dating back to June 2020, included references to “a negative long-read” Kennard had written, confirmation that GCHQ staff would “not be engaging further” with him and references to ignoring his requests for information on articles he was writing.

Kennard reports that the last query he sent to GCHQ’s press office concerning another story, on 23 September, also received no response.

Speaking to Press Gazette, Kennard said: “I find it outrageous that the country’s largest intelligence agency—funded by the British public to the tune of over a billion pounds annually—just stops engaging with a journalist because it believes his stories paint GCHQ’s operations in a ‘negative’ light,” he said.

“It’s doubly worrying in this case because the programme I wanted some basic information on involves thousands of children. In a system that calls itself a democracy, we have a right to know what these types of programmes involve.”

The internal emails obtained by Kennard from GCHQ can be read here.