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Society welcomes court decision to protect journalists’ notes

Posted on: September 5, 2019 by Mariella Brown

The Society of Editors has welcomed the decision by the courts to refuse to order journalists to hand over their notes to counter-terrorism investigators.

The Met Police had sought an order for material from the Times, Sky News, ITN and the BBC from their conversations with 19-year-old “Isis bride” Shamima Begum after she was discovered in Syria earlier this year.

But an Old Bailey judge has ruled that the news providers cannot be compelled to hand over their unpublished notes to the police.

“This is an important decision in protecting both the rights of journalists to protect their sources but also to ensure journalists are not put in increased danger when they are pursuing stories where there is a risk of reprisals,” comments Ian Murray Executive Director at the Society of Editors.

“Anyone giving an interview or information to the media should do so in the knowledge journalists cannot be forced to reveal sensitive information they discover. Journalists also need to be assured they will not be seen as seeking information to then pass on to the security forces.”

At a hearing at the Old Bailey last month, lawyers for the Met applied to have unpublished material from interviews carried out by The Times, BBC, ITN and Sky News handed to counter-terrorism command under the Terrorism Act 2000.

All of the outlets resisted the application, arguing it would undermine their journalists’ ability to cover foreign conflicts.

Gavin Miller, for Sky, ITN and The Times, said the order would deprive journalists of their neutrality and place them at risk by making them de facto actors of the state.

Ms Begum was one of three girls from Bethnal Green, east London, who left the UK aged 15 in February 2015 and travelled to Syria to join Islamic State.

She was tracked down when nine months pregnant with her third child by Times correspondent Anthony Loyd in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Ms Begum, who has since been stripped of her British citizenship, later gave interviews to broadcasters including the BBC, ITN and Sky News.

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