MPs seek to censor the media
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 is to recommend in its next report, out at the end of the year, that a commission be set up to look into its plans, according to senior Whitehall sources.
The ISC holds huge clout within Whitehall. It receives secret briefings from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ and is highly influential in forming government policy. Kim Howells, a respected former Foreign Office minister, was recently appointed its chairman. Under the existing voluntary code of conduct, known as the DA-Notice system, the Government can request that the media does not report a story. However, the committee’s members are particularly worried about leaks, which, they believe, could derail investigations and the reporting of which needs to be banned by legislation.
Civil liberties groups say these restrictions would be “very dangerous” and “damaging for public accountability”. They also point out that censoring journalists when the leaks come from officials is unjustified.