Journalists will end up going to prison if Home Office proposals to loosen up legal protection for sources go through, a reporter involved in a landmark press freedom fight has warned.
The Government is set to put changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) out to consultation later this year.
These include the recommendation from Leveson that journalistic material would only be protected under PACE if it did not breach confidentiality agreements or other laws.
And they suggest that police would no longer have to prove they tried to get the information from other sources before targeting journalists.
The Home Office has also accepted a recommendation that all ACPO rank police officers must keep notes of conversations with the media.
And it has adopted guidelines which state that police officers should not communicate with the media unless “there is a policing purpose for doing so”.
In 2008 journalist Shiv Malik, who now works for The Guardian, lost a legal fight with Manchester police at the High Court and was forced to hand over his notes of conversations with a suspected terrorist after a production order under PACE.
Malik described the proposed Home Office changes as “outrageous”.
He said: “It’s going to end up with more journalists going to jail because so much information comes from people who are breaching confidentiality agreements. Anyone covered by the Official Secrets Act or with confidentiality clauses in the contracts of employment could be covered by this.
“This is going to make it almost impossible for journalists to keep their sources secret. That means journalists will go to prison rather than give up their sources.
“This is a terrible move.”
City University’s head of journalism George Brock also sounded alarm bells about the proposals at a speech on the impact of Leveson delivered at Gresham College, London, this week.
He said: “The Home Office has put out to consultation regulations which are so strict about contacts between newspapers reporters and police sources that they would almost certainly have prevented the reporting of the phone-hacking scandal itself. Police sources were extremely important for that story.”