[JURIST] Members of the UK parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) [official website] are pushing for legislation to limit the ability of the media to report on matters affecting national security, according to an Independent report [text] Monday. Under the current system, news editors may seek guidance from Defence Advisory Notices (DA-Notices) [official website] when considering whether to publish information that could affect national security, though such guidance is voluntary and the decision whether to publish rests solely with the editor. The ISC's desired legislation would restrict the power of publication by banning publication of matters the government deems dangerous to national security. According to the ISC's 2006-2007 Annual Report [text, PDF]:
The current system for handling national security information through DA-Notices, and the Agencies relationships with the media more generally, is not working as effectively as it might and this is putting lives at risk. We recommend that the Government engage with the media to develop a new, effective system, with a view to protecting intelligence work, operations, sources and criminal prosecutions, whilst ensuring that the media continue to report on important matters of public interest.The ISC will reportedly solidify its plans and request that a committee investigate its proposals in its next annual report at the end of 2008.
British laws that could effectively limit the media's ability to report have recently drawn international criticism. In August, the UN Human Rights Committee [official website] criticized British libel laws [JURIST report] for stifling freedom of speech. In a report [text linked under "Concluding Observations"] issued after its 93rd session in Geneva, the Committee said restrictive laws may encourage media agencies and scholars to abandon reporting on serious public issues, especially in cases involving the Internet. The Committee also expressed concern that the Official Secrets Act 1989 [text] has been used to prevent former government officials from bringing issues of public interest to light.