ICE blogs

February 27, 2009

One more nail in the coffin of investigative reporting

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, human rights — news_editor @ 1:51 pm

The new anti-terrorism Act adds a further threat to investigative reporting, according to legal expert Barry Turner

The Counter Terrorism Act 2008, which came into effect in February 2009, poses new and serious threats to investigative journalism. This law is, in part, designed to prevent terrorists from gathering information about possible targets with Section 76 making it an offence to elicit, publish or communicate any information which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

This, in itself, is an amendment to Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, originally introduced to counteract actual terrorist intelligence gathering, but broadens its scope to threaten to anyone conducting investigations into military or police matters. This legislation is aimed not only at IRA-style intelligence gathering but at anyone who obtains information that terrorists could potentially use. One of the most alarming features of the new Act is that there appears to be an apparent reverse burden of proof requiring any investigative reporter to ‘prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action’. Don’t reach for public interest: it is already well established that national security trumps that one.

The legislation is particularly alarming in that there is no need for there to be any intention to aid terrorists, only that such eliciting or publishing may be ‘useful to them’. This could, of course, be research material gathered in advance of publication or the finished article or programme. Significantly, the law requires only an ability (and not a desire) on the part of potential terrorists to use the information.

Commentators have already noted the broad scope of any interpretation of this law especially as it might apply to street photography. Over the last few years there have been increasing reports of police officers demanding that press photographers and film crews cease taking shots of officers performing their duties. The Public Order Acts have for many years provided the police with powers to control ‘nuisance’ photographers but this new Act goes much further. There is little doubt that officers can now use this legislation to demand memory cards and other video image recordings on the grounds that ‘they may be useful to terrorists’.

The requirement on the defence to prove there was a reasonable excuse flies in the face of the centuries-old criminal law tradition where the burden of proof lies on the accuser. Moreover, for information to be legally elicited or published permission needs to be sought in advance. Journalists investigating bullying or brutality in the armed forces or corruption in the police force, for instance, will now need to let the forces know in advance that such a programme or article is being planned. Failure to seek these permissions will lead to accusations of covertly eliciting material about serving or former military personnel or serving police officers that ‘could be useful to terrorists’. There is little evidence that the police, military or security services have ever considered investigative reporting about themselves to be reasonable.

When Mark Daly completed his undercover Panorama investigation, The secret policeman, into racism in the police in 2003, their initial reaction was to try to prosecute him, not the racists he uncovered. A similar BBC documentary on bullying in the armed forces, The undercover soldier, broadcast in September 2008, was only possible through undercover reporting. Since both documentaries, albeit inadvertently, disclosed material that would be useful to a terrorist anyone considering this type of investigation today needs to be very wary indeed of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008.

February 12, 2009

Fiji and parachute journalism

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, politics, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 11:08 pm

Those in the northern hemisphere won’t have heard much about the latest coup in Fiji and the complex racialised politics involved. What you will hear most of, though, is the interim (i.e. military) government’s crackdown on journalists. This week there was a rare, good discussion of the whiteness of the lenses through which the issue is seen in the west on TVNZ. Summary and analysis of it on the Pacific Media Centre blog by Thakur Ranjit Singh.

February 9, 2009

Filipino journalists fear for their safety

Filed under: News, Headlines, journalism, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 8:59 pm

A fairly grim BBC report on the targeting of journalists in the Philippines, which independent journalists there blame on the failure of democratic institutions. The journalist deaths are, it seems, part of a larger pattern of killings of those who challenge powerful interests at various levels.

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