IFJ Congress 2001: 21. Official Secrets Act

21. Official Secrets Act

Proposed: National Union of Journalists, UK and Ireland

The 24th IFJ Congress, meeting in Seoul on June 11th to June 15th, 2001

Notes with concern the continuing attempts by the UK government and by the Czech state to use legal measures to prevent information on security matters from reaching the public domain;

Declares that the British tradition and practice of official secrecy as well the post-communist customs is against the spirit and practice of the movement towards the transparency of official information in the European Union. It is also a serious restriction on the freedom of the British media.

This Congress notes that prosecutions under the Official Secrets Act have been threatened against at least four journalists in the last year, and that one, David Shayler, a former

officer of the British domestic intelligence service M15, is about to face trial under the Act. Two Czech journalists have been prosecuted under Czech Official Secrets laws last year and one of them, Thomas Imcek, a former reporter of TV Nova awaits the court decision this Friday and may be jailed for 8 years.

This Congress notes that David Shayler, a member of the IFJ’s British affiliate, the National Union of Journalists, is attempting to mount a defence that his actions in releasing information considered secret by the British government was in the public interest, but that the courts are preventing the exercise of this defence.

This Congress believes that the public interest defence is vital to enable whistle-blowers to come forward with information they believe should be known to the public and which does not threaten the survival or integrity of the state nor the lives of any people.

This Congress urges the IFJ Executive Committee to write to the British Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor urging the following courses of action, in the name of the IFJ:

1. to drop the charges under the Official Secrets Act against David Shayler, and

2. to repeal the Official Secrets Act and replace it with a law containing a restricted definition of national security and protecting the rights of whistleblowers.

3. to call on the Czech government, parliament and the Supreme Court to recognise the public interest as a legal category that can be used in defence of publication of secret documents, in line with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.