VIDEO: Midlands journalists launch campaign against “Espionage Act”

on March 23, 2017

A community of journalists in Birmingham has launched a campaign responding to new proposals that would see journalists and whistleblowers criminalised for handling leaks.

Informally named the “Espionage Act”, the consultation published by the UK’s Law Commission recommends that British journalists who handle secret documents can be sentenced up to 14 years in prison and considered spies.

The mobilisation against the consultation has been led by the Open Rights Group which has collected nearly 20,000 signatures on a petition demanding the Law Commission drop plans to criminalise journalists and public-interest leakers.

Jim Killock talks to the audience at the Open Rights Group meeting

Jim Killock talks to the audience at the Open Rights Group meeting

According to Jim Killock, executive director of the group, if the government proposal takes one step further it will reach the stage of policy development and impose serious consequences to reporters and media organisations.

“It’s going to be very hard for any journalist to examine a set of documents that has been leaked. So, we really need to stop this government proposal.

“In this scenario, reporters will automatically be taking the risk of facing criminal offenses without any kind of legal defence”

“The government has made a mistake assuming that journalists would not react and defend their profession”

The first meeting debating the campaign was organised by Open Rights Group Birmingham

It took place at the Birmingham Open Media and attracted local journalists, students, and activists. The organisers say that community involvement demonstrates the public interest in discussing complex issues such as privacy, surveillance and information access.

“The government has made a mistake assuming that journalists would not react and defend their profession”, said Jim Killock.

The government consultation paper, however, justifies the proposal as a necessity “to ensure that the law is keeping pace with the challenges of the 21st century”.

Involvement of journalists from different sectors “crucial”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed its support to the campaign and publicly opposed the plans the criminalise journalists.

Chris Morley, North and Midlands Union’s organizer, says that the involvement of journalists from different sectors is crucial to debate the government consultation:

“This mobilization is extremely important to inform other people about the real government intentions with this proposal. Fortunately, organized groups have been campaigning as well as members of the press.”

The Government’s official response to the consultation will be made during the first week of May.

For more information, access the Law Commission Protection of Official Data website.

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