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Reporters Who Embarrass The Government Could Spend Up To 14 Years In Prison

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 21 Jul 2021 10:21
Reporters Who Embarrass The Government Could Spend Up To 14 Years In PrisonPA Images

A reform of the Official Secrets Act could see journalists behind bars for 14 years.

The act, which is described as ‘the main legal protection in the UK against espionage and the unauthorised disclosure of official information’, was first created in 1889, and has since been revised a handful of times.

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Now, Priti Patel’s Home Office wants to make a change so that journalists can no longer use the act if they handle leaked documents, meaning they’d be treated the same way as those who leak the information and those committing espionage offences.

Priti Patel (PA)PA Images

They’re also considering hiking up the maximum sentence someone can receive from these charges, from two years to 14 years.

The Home Office consultation is set to come to a close tomorrow, July 22, Press Gazette reports.

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With the last amendments to the legislation being made in 1989, the government are arguing that the act isn’t enough to fight the ‘discernible and very real threat posed by state threats’ in the present day.

These suggested changes come in the wake of footage of former health secretary Matt Hancock being leaked by The Sun, who was seen kissing his married aide despite social distancing rules being in place at the time.

Hancock caught on camera having affair with aide (PA Images)PA Images

In a statement, the Home Office said that it does ‘not consider that there is necessarily a distinction in severity between espionage and the most serious unauthorised disclosures, in the same way that there was in 1989’.

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It continued:

Although there are differences in the mechanics of and motivations behind espionage and unauthorised disclosure offences, there are cases where an unauthorised disclosure may be as or more serious, in terms of intent and/or damage.

For example, documents made available online can now be accessed and utilised by a wide range of hostile actors simultaneously, whereas espionage will often only be to the benefit of a single state or actor.

Downing Street (PA)PA Images

In light of these suggestions, human rights organisations and the Law Commission have proposed that a public interest defence should apply to the act to prevent journalists being charged for receiving leaked documents, Mail Online reports.

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The National Union of Journalists has since accused the government of ‘blurring the distinctions’ between ‘those who leak or whistleblow, those who receive leaked information, and foreign spies’.

Others have argued that it undermines the freedom of the press.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

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