Why police were wrong to warn public they could be committing a crime by watching American journalist beheading

The Metropolitan Police were wrong to warn people who watched the video of the beheading of an American journalist that they could be committing a crime.

I blogged last month about how the advice targeted the wrong people and lacked common sense.

And closer examination shows that neither the Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006, nor the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, make viewing "extremist material" a criminal offence.

This didn’t stop the Met issuing a press release stating: "We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under terrorism legislation."

The 2006 Act doesn’t actually mention "extremist material". It covers "terrorist publications" – but these do not include TV material. And in any case, a material can only be classed as "a terrorist publication" if it …"induces or encourages the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".

Had the Met wanted to throw its weight about, it might have been more convincing to warn UK TV stations and digital platforms not to broadcast the video. The 2006 Act does give police the power to prosecute people who …"provide a service to others that enables them to obtain, read, listen to or look at such a [terrorist] publication."

But even then, it would be hard to prove that the execution video encouraged acts of terrorism.

So either the Met weren’t familiar with terrorism legislation. Or they wanted to intimidate or mislead the public, for whatever the reason.

Cleland Thom runs online media law refresher courses <http://www.ctjt.biz/course/c/19/t/media-law-refresher-course>

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