Terror reporting could land journalists in jail

Journalists
investigating terrorism could fall foul of terror legislation and face
imprisonment even if they had no intent to break the law.

This
was the warning given by BBC head of programme legal advice, Valerie
Nazareth, at the Law for Journalists Conference 2005 in London on
Friday.

She said journalists should be cautious of paying
suspected terrorists for interviews because, under the Terrorism Act
2000, an offence is committed if money is provided that will be “used
for the purposes of terrorism”.

Perhaps more worryingly for
journalists, Nazareth pointed out that under the Act an offence is
committed if a journalist finds out that someone has been funding
terrorism and does not inform the police immediately. She said that
this must be done “as soon as reasonably practicable” and that Act says
failure to do so is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Nazareth
warned that under the 2000 Act journalists could also face five years
in jail if they have information that could secure the apprehension of
someone involved in terrorism and they do not give it to the police “as
soon as reasonably practicable”.

Under the proposed Terrorism
Bill, currently going through Parliament, journalists face up to 10
years’ imprisonment if they are present at a terrorism training camp.

Nazareth
said: “This criminalises journalists merely for being in a particular
place,” and added: “This is legislation that will limit investigation
into groups or individuals about which there is real public interest.”

She
revealed that the BBC had raised its concerns about the legislation to
Home Office junior minister Hazel Blears, who replied in a letter: “We
see no reason why people who attend terrorist training camps in full
knowledge of what’s going on should escape the law.”

■ “Until you
stop the burning, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we
will not stop this fight – we are in a war and I am a soldier.”

Liberty
director Shami Chakrabarti began her speech at the conference by
quoting extensively from the video statement made by 7 July London
bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan. She pointed out that under the terms of
the Terrorism Bill, such “encouragement”

of terrorism could be against the law.

Chakrabarti said: “Shutting down free speech is a disaster… how will we challenge these ideas if we shut down public discourse?”

Despite
widespread press support for the bill, she refused to criticise the
media, saying: “It’s too easy to blame the press for stories we don’t
like – the answer to bad press is probably more press.

“I’m more cross with politicians and police than I ever am with the media.

I didn’t elect the editor of the Daily Mail, but I elected our political leaders.”

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