Alex Massie

MPs to Media: You’re On Notice

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This week's (latest) head-in-hands, what-the-hell-is-going-on? moment comes courtesy of the Intelligence and Security Committee at Westminster. The Independent reports that:

Britain's security agencies and police would be given unprecedented and legally binding powers to ban the media from reporting matters of national security, under proposals being discussed in Whitehall.

The Intelligence and Security Committee, the parliamentary watchdog of the intelligence and security agencies which has a cross-party membership from both Houses, wants to press ministers to introduce legislation that would prevent news outlets from reporting stories deemed by the Government to be against the interests of national security.

The committee also wants to censor reporting of police operations that are deemed to have implications for national security...

The ISC report said the DA-Notice system "provides advice and guidance to the media about defence and counter-terrorism information, whilst the system is voluntary, has no legal authority, and the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to publish rests solely with the editor or publisher concerned. The system has been effective in the past. However, the Cabinet Secretary told us ... this is no longer the case: 'I think we have problems now.'"

Consequently, there are moves to make DA-Notices legally enforceable. That is to say, the government should have statutory powers to censor the media. Should this happen, then as sure as eggs is eggs you can guarantee that there will be a massive increase in the number of DA-Notices issued and that, furthermore, most of them will be designed to spare the government embarrassment rather than protect national security.

But, hey!, fundamental abridgments of liberty are OK if it's in a good cause, right? The great thing about "national security" is that it can be invoked to cover just about anything. Or rather, there are plenty of people who fold whenever the "national security" card is played, no matter how ludicrous or implausible the reasoning behind the bluff may be.

As you might expect, David Davis makes sense on the matter, here.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticsterrorismwestminster