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15 October 2020

Security Minister Stresses Importance of Press Freedom

“Freedom of the press is a fundamental part of our democracy and is at the heart of UK society”, the Security Minister has said in a letter to the News Media Association, and confirmed that, as the NMA had asked, the Government would consult with the media as it developed new espionage legislation and reviewed the Official Secrets Acts.

Security Minister, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, was responding to the NMA’s letter on the Law Commission’s recommendations to government on the Protection of Official Data. The NMA had welcomed the Law Commission’s support for public interest defence and other improvements to its much-criticised original proposals, following consultation with the NMA and other media organisations.

However, the NMA now stresses the necessity for government engagement with the media to avoid adverse impact of any new laws. Revision of espionage and official secrets legislation directly affected newsgathering, investigation, reporting and publication and media organisations, editors and journalists, their legal advisors, and sources.

New espionage laws were announced in the Queen’s Speech. The Security Minister confirmed to the NMA  that the Home Office officials are now working to develop legislation to both modernise existing espionage offences and consider the case for new ones to criminalise harmful activity conducted by, and on behalf of foreign states. This work includes reviewing existing legislation including the Official Secrets Acts.

However, the Security Minister gave strong commitments on media freedom and consultation:

‘’Freedom of the press is a fundamental part of our democracy and is at the heart of UK society. We agree on the importance of the issues you raised and note your extensive engagement with the Law Commission during their review on the Protection of Official Data. The Government is currently reflecting on their recommendations and will formally respond in due course.

"We recognise the need to balance important freedoms and rights with national security concerns and the need for further engagement with the media industry as we develop this legislation, in light of the media’s crucial role in our society."

The NMA said ‘We warmly welcome the Minister’s very constructive statement, recognising the importance of press freedom and the need for consultation of the media as legislation is developed. We look forward to further engagement with the Home Office.’