UK: Proposed amendments to National Security Bill are a step in the right direction, but more robust protections for journalists still required
The UK government’s proposed amendments to the National Security Bill are a recognition that in its current draft the bill risks criminalising journalists. With the legislation set to receive further scrutiny in the House of Lords, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges parliament to add even more robust protections for public interest journalism.
The UK Home Office said on 23 February that it had put forward amendments to the National Security Bill which would protect journalistic freedoms by making it clearer it would “protect all legitimate activity”. The proposed amendments stopped short, however, of introducing a much-need public interest defence. RSF had previously criticised the far-reaching bill’s vague wording and broadly defined offences, which could restrict independent reporting and wrongfully conflate journalists and spies.
“We welcome the government’s recognition that previous drafts of the bill were likely to have damaging consequences for press freedom. While the proposed amendments are a step in the right direction, however, further change is still needed to make sure this legislation truly protects journalists working in the public interest.”
Last September, RSF and a coalition of journalistic and press freedom organisations submitted written evidence to the National Security Bill Committee outlining serious concerns and making three key recommendations: to narrow broad and vague definitions which could expose journalists to wrongful prosecution; to establish a statutory public interest defence, keeping the UK in line with international norms; and to establish an independent commissioner as a safeguard against wrongdoing.
The bill is expected to reach report stage in the House of Lords on 1 March and 7 March, where it will receive further scrutiny before a third reading. It will then move back to the House of Commons, and is expected to become law later in 2023.