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SoE responds to government

The Society of Editors (SoE) has responded to the introduction by the government this week of amendments to the National Security Bill that ministers claim will “protect journalistic freedoms”.

SoE responds to government
Dawn Alford: “The Society welcomes the government’s recognition of the legitimate concerns of news organisations and press freedom groups.”

The Society of Editors says the amendments, tabled on 22nd February by the government ahead of the bill’s report stage in the House of Lords next week, includes clarification around the scope of offences contained within the bill as well as the narrowing of definitions within it. The government has said that it will also “focus the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme to where threats to undermine the UK political systems are most acute: foreign powers”.

Responding to the amendments, Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society said: “The Society welcomes the government’s recognition of the legitimate concerns of news organisations and press freedom groups that provisions previously contained within the bill risk criminalising public interest journalism and whistleblowing as well as deterring international collaborations between investigative news outlets.

“We will now look to review the amendments in more detail to ascertain whether they are workable in practice and will offer the protections that are essential to safeguard journalistic activity.”

The Society of Editors and a coalition of media freedom organisation have previously criticised the bill, calling for urgent amendments to what it says poses a “grave threat” to press freedom. Central among the Society’s concerns is the lack of a public interest defence for journalists and whistle-blowers as well as concern around proposals for a “Foreign Power Condition” which could see any organisation receiving foreign funding, including news organisations, caught up within the legislation. The Society has called for the definition of a foreign power condition to be narrowed to specifically exclude journalists and media organisations.

The coalition of organisations calling for further amendments to the bill include the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Index on Censorship, openDemocracy, Reporters Without Borders and the News Media Association (NMA).

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