Seymour Hersh: UK libel laws and DA Notices are chilling

Veteran US investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has described England’s libel laws as chilling and criticised the British system of issuing Defence Advisory Notices to prevent publication of national security information in the media.

In an interview with the New Statesman, the New Yorker journalist revealed how he’d already fallen out with the Obama administration but stressed how his work benefited from the protections offered to journalists working under the US legal system.

He said: “I’m glad we don’t have the British standard. In America we have this wonderful notion that you have to prove malicious intent.

“In England it is more difficult, you have to be just wrong it doesn’t matter what your intent is.”

Justice secretary Jack Straw confirmed at the weekend that the Government was drawing up proposals for wholesale reform of the libel laws in England – which are acknowledged to be among the toughest in the world for publishers..

Asked in the Q&A interview how bad English libel laws were, Hersh said: “There’s no question [that England’s libel laws are chilling] – D-notices are chilling. You guys have a very tough system.”

The British press works under a voluntary code where the Defence, Press & Broadcasting Advisory Committee – a body made up of senior civil servants and members of the media – issues DA-Notices (former called D notices) preventing the publication of information deemed to be against the national security interest.

Hersh went on to criticise political interference as he detailed his own experiences publishing sensitive national security information in the US.

He said: “Maybe six or seven times in 40 years I’ve had a story and I’ve communicated to the government what I’m doing, which we always do, and the president or the secretary of defence has called up my editor or publisher and said: ‘If you write this story, American national security will be damaged.’

“And in every case except one where we delayed briefly, we wrote the story and son-of-a-bitch the Russians didn’t launch paratroopers into the foothills of San Francisco the next day.

“At a certain point this claim about national security becomes something more, it’s always political security.”

An abridged Q&A appears in this week’s News Statesman with a full transcript of the interview available on the magazine’s website.

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