The Society of Editors has joined a coalition of global media organisations and press freedom groups warning that provisions contained within the National Security Bill risk having a chilling effect upon journalism.
In an open letter published in The Times on Wednesday (11 January 2023) the coalition of more than 40 signatories, including the Society’s Executive Director Dawn Alford, warned of “serious concerns” with the bill and the risk it poses to whistleblowing and public interest journalism.
The group said that, while it understood that the aim of the bill was to update the UK’s espionage laws to protect national security, the reality was that broad and vague definitions contained within it would, even if unintentionally, “impact on legitimate whistle-blowers and public interest journalism”.
The Society of Editors has previously criticised the bill and, in particular, the absence of any public interest defence for journalists.
The coalition said: “Clauses intended to target spies acting on behalf of foreign states could also bring individuals working for international media and NGO organisations, many of whom legitimately receive funding from foreign states, within scope of the Bill. This could have a chilling effect on the legitimate flow of public interest information to the UK general public and create a blueprint that could be used by authoritarian governments around the world as a means to threaten journalists, activists and whistleblowers with lengthy prison sentences.
“It is widely recognised that taking active steps to protect and prioritise media freedom is a means to improve good governance and tackle corruption. As a result any action on this by the UK government will be a significant marker to the global community, watched and potentially copied by allies and adversaries alike.
“We believe the UK government can strengthen its espionage laws for the modern age, whilst ensuring there are meaningful and robust protections for those acting in the public interest and promoting the duty to impart information and ideas to the public and the public’s right to receive them, specifically whistleblowers and journalists.”
The National Security Bill is currently under committee review in the House of Lords.
The full list of signatories to the letter appears below:
- Iqbal Khattak, executive director, Freedom Network (www.fnpk.org)
- Elisabet Cantenys, ACOS Alliance (A Culture of Safety Alliance)
- Cristina Zahar, secretariat executive, Abraji (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism)
- Sasmito Madrim, president, Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) Indonesia
- Simon Spanswick, chief executive, Association for International Broadcasting
- William Horsley, Association of European Journalists (UK chairman)
- Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, ex president, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists
- Guy Black, chair, Commonwealth Press Union
- Jason Kint, chief executive, Digital Content Next
- Daniel Gorman, director, English PEN
- Angela Mills-Wade, executive director of the European Publishers’ Council (EPC)
- Ruth Kronenburg, executive director, Free Press Unlimited (FPU)
- Modou S. Joof, secretary general, Gambia Press Union (GPU)
- Rachael Kay, executive director, IFEX
- Martin Bright, editor at large, Index on Censorship
- Anthony Bellanger, general secretary, International Federation of Journalists
- Frane Maroević, executive director, International Press Institute (IPI)
- Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists
- Owen Meredith, chief executive, News Media Association
- Wout van Wijk, executive director, News Media Europe
- Media Defence
- Milica Pesic, executive director, Media Diversity Institute (MDI), London
- Mariam Gersamia, chairwoman, Media and Communication Educational and Research Center “Media Voice” (Georgia)
- Tabani Moyo, regional director, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
- William Bird, director, Media Monitoring Africa
- Drew Sullivan, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
- Owais Aslam Ali, secretary general, Pakistan Press Foundation
- Romana Cacchioli, executive director, PEN International
- Kristian Porter, chief executive, Public Media Alliance
- Rebecca Vincent, director of operations and campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Clothilde Redfern, director, Rory Peck Trust
- Dawn Alford, executive director, Society of Editors
- Oliver Vujovic, secretary general, South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)
- World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
- Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Pakistan
- Deborah Bonetti, director, The Foreign Press Association
- Liz Corbin, deputy director of media and head of news, European Broadcasting Union (EBU)
- Quinn McKew, executive director, ARTICLE 19
- Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, advocacy and communications director, Committee to Protect Journalists
- Ahmad Quraishi, executive director, Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
- Peter Greste, chair, Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom
Image: Parliament UK