Professional Pensions splashes on regulator's jail threat to journalist

Incisive Media’s Professional Pensions magazine has responded to a threat to imprison one of its journalists by refusing to reveal its sources.

The Pensions Regulator has threatened Professional Pensions journalist Jenna Towler with prison and demanded she revealed her sources for a story about about the removal of pension schemes from a Nottingham-based pension trustee, GP Noble.

Professional Pensions, 21 August

Professional Pensions put the threat to imprison one of its journalists on the cover of this week’s issue

The Pensions Regulator objected to the story on the grounds that it contained restricted information, publication of which is prohibited under the Pensions Act 2004. The regulator threatened to use Section 82 of the act, breach of which carries a prison term of up to two years.

Responding to the Pensions Regulator through its lawyers, Carter-Ruck, Incisive Media said it will not reveal the source of the story and suggested that ‘it is clear that section 82 was not intended to be used by the Pensions Regulator to prevent or punish the reporting of actions taken by the Pensions Regulator, or to allow (in effect) such actions to be taken in secret.”

Professional Pensions splashed with the jail threat to its journalist on today’s cover, and followed up the GP Noble story, despite the Pensions Regulator’s request not to do so.

David Worsfold, group editorial services director at Incisive Media, told Press Gazette: ‘We’ve led on the fact that we were threatened and that we’re not minded to bow to those threats. No-one has challenged the facts in the original story so we have republished that and moved it on slightly.”

Worsfold added that he hopes the Pensions Regulator is not going to take any further action, and that he believes it is acting outsite its powers.

Tim Weller, Incisive’s group chief executive, said: ‘Such behaviour is, at best, unbecoming of a Pensions Regulatory body. They then made things even worse by demanding we reveal our sources. The right of journalists to protect their sources is vital if the media is to be able to do its job properly, and that includes ensuring Pensions Regulatory bodies are exposed to proper public scrutiny.”

The Periodical Publishers Association and NUJ have both condemned the Pensions Regulator’s actions as a threat to press freedom.

PPA chief executive, Jonathan Shephard, described the demand for the revelation of journalistic sources as ‘completely unacceptable’ with a ‘chilling’ effect on the freedom of the press.

He said: ‘Investigative journalism would be severely compromised – with a resulting chilling effect on the freedom of the press – if journalists were not able to guarantee confidentiality and anonymity to their sources. It is entirely correct that public bodies are put under scrutiny by the media, without journalists having to worry about being locked up and forced to reveal their sources.”

The NUJ said it is concerned about the potential implications of the act for press freedom.

NUJ General Secretary, Jeremy Dear, said: “It’s disgraceful that the Pensions Regulator is trying to put pressure on a member of the press in this way. If we are to hold government bodies to account then a journalist must be able to protect their sources.

“There are numerous examples of injustice and malpractice that have only come to light because someone has blown the whistle. To try to use a clause within the Pensions Act to undermine one of the basic principles of press freedom is simply outrageous.”

In a statement the Pensions Regulator said that it ‘ takes an open and transparent approach, but in certain instances information is protected in law to protect the confidentiality of those who we regulate, and avoid jeopardising investigation.”

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