Guardian Double Campbell raises journalism official secrecy danger

Guardian IMG_3736 900px

Those of us of a certain vintage have waited more than 40 years to see the double photographic byline shown above, which appeared on 20 July in the print edition of The Guardian. (The byline can also be seen in the online edition here, although disappointingly the pictures are missing.)

The two Campbells are both Scots, the older (born 1944) from Edinburgh, the younger (born 1952) from Dundee. Their paths crossed in the 1970s when the older was news editor of Time Out, which in those days employed several of its own reporters as well as giving work to a number of freelances. One of these freelances was Campbell the younger, already a specialist in writing about communications and the secret state. It was he who, along with Time Out staffer Crispin Aubrey, went to interview an ex-army corporal John Berry about his service in the Royal Signals. All three were arrested after the interview had finished, and charged with offences under the Official Secrets Act.

The ad hoc group of friends, families and other supporters which came together to defend them became known by their initials, the ABC campaign. It won a significant victory in getting the most serious charges under Section 1 of the act dropped. At their trial, all three were eventually found guilty of Section 2 charges, after the judge indicated he was not considering custodial sentences.

Now Campbell and Campbell are writing together to alert readers to the latest danger posed by this most illiberal of UK governments, whose sights are now set on journalists merely doing their jobs. As the pair point out:

The Home Office now wants harder and more extensive secrecy laws that would have the effect of deterring sources, editors and reporters, making them potentially subject to uncontrolled official bans not approved by a court, and punished much more severely if they do not comply. In noisy political times, a government consultation issued two months ago has had worryingly little attention. Although portrayed as countering hostile activity by state actors, the new laws would, if passed, ensnare journalists and sources whose job is reporting “unauthorised disclosures” that are in the public interest.

These proposals are markedly different from those proposed by the independent Law Commission published last autumn. The commission recommended that “a statutory public interest defence should be created for anyone … including civilians and journalists, that they can rely upon in court”. Journalists and sources should not be convicted if it was in the public interest for the information disclosed to be known by recipients. An independent, statutory whistleblower commissioner “should be established to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing or criminality”.

The current “gung-ho, authoritarian approach of the government could allow press freedom to be clamped into silence” warn our Dynamic Duo, unless editors and others worried about press freedom and an open society do not highlight the dangers and call a halt. Well said, chaps.

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