Can’t control immigration – can control the press …
While various giant squirrels – the postponement of Freedom Day, the ‘vaccine passport’, the pingdemic, the ‘next wave’ and assorted scare graphs have been occupying the MSM and thus the Nation, the Home Office has been preparing for a drastic change to the Official Secrets Act. Ms Patel’s mandarins have been running a ‘consultation’ on changes to this Act which closes today.
It is quite astonishing that this proposal only surfaced this week in some Westminster MSM Newsrooms. Yes, one can make excuses for them: there was covid and all that jazz. The fact is that this consultation was opened on the 13th of May 2021 – here’s the relevant document published by the Home Office – but the MSM were silent. Well, the document is 66 pages long so reading this would’ve required more effort than scanning twitter.
“Journalists could face prison sentences of up to 14 years for stories that embarrass the Government under plans to reform the Official Secrets Act. Under a consultation run by Priti Patel’s Home Office, which closes later this week, reporters who handle leaked documents would not have a defence if charged under new laws designed to clamp down on foreign agents.” (link)
That’s bad enough already, but scrolling a bit further down, we read:
“Human rights organisations and the Law Commission, which drew up the proposals, say there should be a ‘public interest defence’ included to prevent the prosecution of journalists who receive leaked documents.” (link)
Interestingly, these entities and the Home Office were working on these proposals at least since the beginning of this year. We know this because on the 18th of January 2021 The Times published an opinion piece by Alex Bailin QC, a barrister at Matrix Chambers (link, paywalled). The issue of treating journalists akin to spies for foreign countries must already have been on the table at that time because Mr Bailin QC was able to write that:
“[…] the bill must include a statutory public interest defence, making sure there is accountability up to and including senior ministers and officials. Responsible, conscientious people must not be criminalised for exposing wrongdoing.” (link, paywalled).
Long in the secretive making, this ‘Espionage Bill’ morphed into the new Official Secrets Act Proposal now on the table. Clearly, certain people inside the Westminster Village knew about this, and knew what might be in that proposal well before the Home Office started their official consultation process in May – a process which closes today.
It’s only now, literally five minutes before midnight, that some journalists have taken notice. To no-one’s surprise they found that the public interest defence has not been included. The Times points out today that:
“[…] the proposals would also severely restrict the ability of journalists to report on misconduct and wrongdoing in the police, the military, the NHS, the intelligence services and Whitehall departments. The reforms threaten to criminalise whistleblowers, the journalists to whom they might leak a document or impart a secret, and the editor “who publishes it further”.” (link, paywalled)
Interesting, isn’t it: behind the cloak of defending the country against spies from foreign countries there lurks another reason, that of giving the government clout to prosecute those who ‘leak’ documents, something every government abhors. The Times then points out that:
“Under Patel’s proposals the types of information which might be seen as secret would be opened to abuse by the political classes. At present, in any Official Secrets Act prosecution, the state has to prove in court that a public official leaking information did so knowing it would cause damage to the national interest.” (link, paywalled)
After reporting that the Home Office has rejected the ‘public interest defence’ with the argument that it “could undermine our efforts to prevent damaging unauthorised disclosures” , The Times lets rip:
“There is no need, it [the Home Office] says, for whistleblowers to go to the press when the public sector has its own procedures for reporting concerns. Tell that to the public officials, including NHS staff and prison officers, who have lost their jobs for highlighting concerns about safety in hospitals or dangerous conditions in jails.” (link, paywalled)
Indeed so, and the DM goes a step further when they write that:
“The plans could criminalise investigative journalism, making it easier for the authorities to prosecute journalists and whistleblowers, and impose harsh new penalties – including substantial jail sentences. If implemented, Britain risks joining the unsavoury club of authoritarian regimes that treat journalists as if they are enemies of the state. Such a law should have no place in a free and democratic society.” (link)
Just so! This point is also made by The Times, warning that:
“This is a precarious moment for press freedom in Britain. If Johnson really believes the media is “the lifeblood of our democracy” and must be able to “report the facts without fear or favour” then he has to rein in his home secretary’s authoritarian instincts.” (link, paywalled)
However, cynical old cow that I am, I wonder why it’s only now that journalists warn of the dangers inherent in that Bill. I wonder why it is that apparently the Westminster MSM have been blindsided by this proposal. Were they really no be bothered until now, even though they must have known since the beginning of the year that this Bill was being prepared? Might they have been scared that their precious ‘sources’ would stop talking to them if they were to take a closer look at the consultation paper?
Surely they must know that those ‘sources’ provide them with ‘controlled leaks’! Surely they know that for example any NHS frontline staff has been prohibited to talk to the MSM – to whistleblow, in fact – by threat of losing their jobs. Surely they know that it’s not Priti and her ‘authoritarian instincts’ who needs to be reined in but her mandarins who have been preparing this Bill! Does The Times really think we peasants are so stupid that we believe a minister is writing legal texts all by her~ or himself?
Yes, this Bill must be opposed – but I wonder how seriously the Westminster MSM’s concern for Freedom of the Press is when they’re only now going public with this information. As far as I’m concerned they’ve again shown that they prefer their cosy ‘inner circle’ relationship with Whitehall and Downing Street to informing us, the people, as is their duty.
The freedom of the press is certainly under threat – but those who ought to have blown whistles loud and clear haven’t done so. The US president Thomas Jefferson wrote: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Are the MSM complicit in the government’s endeavour to keep us ignorant?
Thomas Jefferson also wrote:
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”
This government is hell-bent to keep us in bondage, uninformed and ignorant, because they don’t trust us an inch. Is this government afraid that we peasants might actually ‘set things right’?
Photo by UK Prime Minister