Monday, 7 April 2014

Intimidating and criminalising journalism

Glenn Greenwald with his partner who was detained in Heathrow under the Terrorism Act
[Earlier post by Brian Spencer on criminalising journalism in the US here]

In 2003 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) raiding the house of  two well known journalists, Liam Clarke (@LIAMCLARKECJ) and Kathryn Johnston (@kathrynjohnston). The police removed 21 bagfuls of the computers and material and detained the two journalists for 23 hours. Police searched their home and battered down the door of their office.

The action followed revelations in their updated biography of Martin McGuinness of indiscreet conversations between him and Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam and Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff.

Their publisher, Mainstream of Edinburgh, was obliged to give to the police proofs of the book, Martin McGuinness: From Guns to Government.

The action was based on possible offences under the Official Secrets Act. They were also warned the police could make further searches. They got most of the material back but the police made copies of their hard drives and a number of documents. Liam Clarke said:
"I still think it is terribly invasive, incredibly heavy-handed and over the top. Raids like that would be perhaps justified if you were printing the names of people who were all going to be killed. This is just a little bit of political embarrassment."
Kathryn Johnston was concerned about confidentiality, with the police having the opportunity to find out who their sources are from their contact books. Both were also very concerned that a retired Special Branch officer has already been charged under the Official Secrets Act and accused of being their source for tape recordings of the telephone conversations. Liam Clarke said:
"If he had wanted to leak damaging information, I'm sure he could have leaked far worse than this."
David Lister, Ireland correspondent of The Times, and Henry McDonald, Ireland editor of The Observer, were also questioned this week about whether they had received Information from the officer.

He had not submitted his book for vetting but had taken legal advice.
"I wasn't aware that there was anything in it that would have contravened the Official Secrets Act. This is meant to deter other journalists and members of the public sector - the police, civil servants - from leaking anything to journalists. There is a whistleblowers' charter for the private sector but in the public sector, even with tittle-tattle like this, you have house searches and arrests under New Labour and under Hugh Orde, who is supposed to be the new reforming chief constable of Northern Ireland."
Catherine Johnston feared for her young family, she said:
"There were three police cars outside our house with officers in plain clothes and officers from technical support dressed in boiler suits and peaked caps and very heavily armed."
She said she thought this kind of operation was used to intimidate journalists:
"I have no doubt this kind of thing will be happening with increasing regularity, despite Tony Blair's supposed open government and Orde's supposed human rights friendly police service. It really wasn't so much to get information contrary to the Official Secrets Act. It was a fishing expedition."
Observer editor Roger Alton said:
"[Henry McDonald's interrogation was] deliberate harassment and intimidation of journalists which is utterly unacceptable and must be stopped immediately".
The Irish secretary of the NUJ, Seamus Dooley, said:
"[The raid on the Clarke home had] grave implications for the operation of the media in Northern Ireland".
Coverage in full in the Press Gazette here.

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