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30 June 2016

Lords Push for Journalistic Protections in IP Bill

Members of the House of Lords have challenged the government to improve journalistic protections in the Investigatory Powers Bill, citing News Media Association concerns about the Bill, this week. 

Speaking in the Second reading debate on the Bill, Lord Beecham, Labour, said that the NMA had joined with other media organisations to call for “enhanced protection” for journalists’ sources and asked “To what extent are the Government prepared to move on these issues?”

Baroness Liddle, Labour, said: “We need to deal with the issue of the protection of sources, because serious journalists get serious information from sources. We will cease to have the kind of free press that is important to our society if we are not in a position to give a guarantee of protection of sources to journalists in appropriate circumstances.”

Baroness Kennedy, Labour, stated: ‘I am also concerned about journalists and the protection of sources’ and spoke of enabling journalists to make the public aware of things that are happening in society which has ot involve their giving promises of protection to their sources

Lord Strasburger, Liberal Democrat, said : “There needs to be much better protection in the Bill, as we have already heard, for privileged communications such as those between lawyers and their clients, journalists and their sources and MPs and their constituents

Viscount Colville of Culross, a cross- bencher, said he feared that the protections currently in the Bill were insufficient and continued: “I very much appreciate the powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which allowed notification to journalists and media organisations of requests to access journalists’ notebooks so that they can respond to those requests.

“I would like the Bill to mirror those powers in some way and to extend that notification to cover some warrants to access journalists’ data so that they and the media organisations can make representations to protect their sources. I know only too well from my own experience and that of colleagues how important it is to guarantee protection for sources when uncovering cases of wrongdoing.

“I am certain that in many cases we would not have the information unless the sources were convinced that they were safe from having their identity revealed to their bosses or other authorities when reporting cases of wrongdoing.

“I ask your Lordships’ House to do everything possible to ensure that this Bill guarantees their secrecy and allows journalists to explain to the judge the public interest reason for that secrecy to be continued. This need is reinforced by the many occasions when the authorities, and especially the police, secretly obtained journalists’ records.”

Replying for the Government, Lord Keen anticipated these issues being raised in Committee, the next stage of the Bill, which will start on 11 July.

The media is united in its call for stronger journalistic protections and the NMA is one of several groups calling for the Bill to be changed:

  • to require prior judicial approval, after hearing media representations;
  • to require prior notice to be given to the media of the authorisation application to the judge and;
  • to include a robust set of freedom of expression conditions for the applicant to satisfy;
  • to ensure the media’s right to participate in the hearing of an application before an independent judge, with rights of swift appeal, before use of the power is authorised.