Public interest journalism and whistleblowing could be “criminalised” by the UK’s National Security Bill, news publishers and press freedom campaign groups have warned.
The bill, which is advancing through Parliament after being introduced by Priti Patel’s Home Office in May, is, in its current form, also set to water down protections against police accessing journalistic materials.
According to the Press Gazette, campaign groups are concerned about a clause in the bill that may threaten journalists for foreign state-funded broadcasters, including from “friendly states”, with prison time for reporting on leaked information.
Guardian News and Media, the News Media Association (NMA), whistleblowers charity Protect, the Campaign for Freedom of Information and Article 19 have made submissions to the Government that lists serious issues with the legislation.
Most of these organisations want the Government to include a public interest defence clause, fearing that without it, the National Security Bill could “criminalise” some investigative journalism and “chill” whistleblowing.
In a submission to the Government seen by Press Gazette, Guardian News and Media said: “The only safeguard for whistleblowers and journalists in the draft bill is that the Attorney-General has to consent to prosecutions and also that the Crown Prosecution Service has to consider that prosecution is in the public interest.
“The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions] guidance holds no legislative force, therefore the decision to prosecute would be in the hands of a Minister of State or the DPP, rather than a proper statutory safeguard This is particularly concerning given the draft bill does not require disclosures to have actually harmed the UK national interests in order to be a criminal offence. An actual harm requirement should be added to the bill to safeguard freedom of expression.”