When The Freedom Forum inassociation with Article XIX,Index on Censorship, and Libertybegan organising a major Londonconference on the issue of nationalsecurity vs.the right to know, we couldnot have anticipated what dramaticdevelopments were about to unfold.
At our initial meeting, there was one overwhelmingpreoccupation: the case of former MI5 officer David Shaylerwhose defiance of the Official Secrets Act had made him amarked man and put at great risk a number of journalistsand publications that had reported and published what hehad revealed to them. At that time, Shayler was still in exilein Paris, and his lawyer, Liberty Director John Wadham, wascampaigning to get British public and legal opinion toaccept that Britain's Official Secrets Act was now invalid asit breached the new European Human Rights Law that wasabout to be instituted in British law.By July, the British Appeals Court had given British journalism one of its biggest victories over the Official SecretsAct by defending the rights of reporters at The Guardian andThe Observer not to hand over material and emails thatrelated to Shayler's accusations that British intelligence waslinked to a plot to try and kill Libya's Gaddaffi. The Guardianin its reporting characterised Judge Judge's ruling as a“ringing defence of press freedom and the newspapers' rightto publish allegations by whistleblowers.”By the end of August, David Shayler had sailed home aftergovernment prosecutors had thrown out the more seriouscharges against Shayler related to the Gaddaffi accusations.Once back on British soil, he turned himself over to Britishauthorities and was arrested on lesser charges related toremoving copyrighted materials from MI5 offices.By the time we met in November, and Shayler would makehis first major public appearance, the government was stilldetermined to try Shayler in secret. If Shayler had won apartial victory, another celebrated whistleblower, LieutenantColonel Nigel Wylde, had the satisfaction of seeing allcharges against him dropped as the government's casecollapsed entirely. Wylde had been one of former SundayTimes' journalist Tony Geraghty's prime sources in his book,
The Irish War
. Geraghty himself had faced prosecution untilthe government finally dropped its case last December.Geraghty and Wylde would be reunited at our conferenceand remind everyone how close they came to becomingvictims of the OSA.But when it came to reporting on Northern Ireland, thegovernment was still determined to stop what it consideredto be damaging information from being published.Increasingly, it resorted to what Sunday Times LawyerAlastair Brett described to our conference as “laws ofconfidence to silence the press.” Brett would explain howSunday Times Northern Ireland editor Liam Clarke had tofight injunctions that were “wheeled out time and time again”to stop his reporting about the activities of the ForcesResearch Unit (FRU) a secret army intelligence squad.While American journalists can rightfully point to our FirstAmendment and Freedom of Information Act that haveprevented many of the excesses of the Official Secrets Act,there is no room for complacency as we learned at theconference. Just prior to our event, the Congress hadpassed a bill that would have according to Britishinvestigative journalist Duncan Campbell bestowed on theUnited States a version of the 1911 Official Secrets Act.Only an 11th hour veto by President Clinton prevented thebill from becoming law.Bob Haiman a former newspaper editor, and more recently,a Fellow at our First Amendment Centre in New York told theconference: “I believe that the US came very close to theedge of the precipice.”
John Owen director, European Centre
WHAT PRICE NATIONAL SECURITY
WHAT PRICE NATIONAL SECURITY |
What price national security?
A day of discussions at the Freedom Forum European Centre,November 10, 2000