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.

1 Comment »

  1. Like all organizations you are bound to have the odd bad apple but to paint them all with the same brush and with such a poor “survey” (where have I seen that befroe? Hmmmm) is questionable as to where this group draws its support.Have I run into cases of police brutality? No. Have I heard/seen police doing something questionable? Of course. But is it rampant? Of course not.There have been occurrence of police using excessive force in cities like Edmonton and corruption in their ranks and questionable police actions in Regina but to imply this is indicative of the Medicine Hat Service I would have to disagree. There is an avenue of recourse in the system but “surveys” such as this one is wrong and only causes more problems. I have seen poor surveys from “special interest” groups and I continue to shake my head at how amateurish they are yet conducted by what should be intelligent people. Yet incredibly they will still attempt to pass their crap off to the public and have the audacity to use credible (or not so credible) references so as to legitimize their surveys credentials.Thanks for putting the “survey” up as I had not seen it befroe.

    Comment by Fabricio — May 28, 2012 @ 5:51 am

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