Afrique Ameriques Asie Moyen-Orient Internet Nations unies
United Kingdom21 May 2007

Unacceptable meddling in news media by Bush-Blair memo trial judge

Reporters Without Borders today condemned a British judge’s order banning the press from mentioning a leaked memo about a meeting between Tony Blair and George W. Bush in their coverage of the trial of two persons accused of violating the Official Secrets Act by leaking the memo, which reportedly referred to the possibility of bombing the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera.

Judge Richard Aikens imposed the gagging order on 10 May after he sentenced government communications officer David Keogh to six months in prison for passing a copy of the memo to Leo O’Connor, a parliamentarian’s researcher, whom he sentenced to three months in prison.

“The judge’s order constitutes inappropriate judicial meddling in the news media and highlights the degree to which this case revives the question of the incompatibility of Britain’s Official Secrets Act with a free press”, Reporters Without Borders added.

Created to protect government secrets and national security, the Official Secrets Act has been amended several times since it took effect, most recently in 1989. Steps are under way to modify it again. Campaigners condemned the jailings and say the government has actually expressed an intent to tighten the Official Secrets Act to remove the whistleblower’s common-law defence of "duress of circumstance" (i.e. that the seriousness of the information being disclosed justified the leak). This defence was used successfully in 2004 by Katherine Gunn, a former translator at the British government’s GCHQ signals listening post, who leaked memos revealing that the US had asked British intelligence for help to bug UN officials in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Several British media, including The Guardian, the BBC and The Times, are planning to appeal against what Anthony Hudson, a lawyer who is representing them, called a “serious intrusion” by the judge in the fundamental right to free expression.

The case dates back to April 2004, when Keogh allegedly photocopied the memo, which bore the Downing Street letterhead and the warning “Secret-Personal” and passed it to O’Connor, who placed in a file which he gave to his employer, Labour Party parliamentarian Anthony Clark. Clark told Downing Street about the leak, but the memo’s alleged contents nonetheless ended up being revealed by the Daily Mirror on 22 November 2005.

The memo is reportedly about a meeting between British Prime Minister Blair and US President Bush in Washington on 16 April 2004 in which Bush raised the possibility of bombing Al-Jazeera and Blair argued against it. The White House has described this account of the meeting as “preposterous” and “unconceivable. A Blair spokesman said it did not refer to “the bombing of the TV station Al-Jazeera in Qatar.”

  In this country
29 May - United Kingdom
Freelance journalist’s refusal to surrender material highlights need for more precision in laws on protection of sources
3 August - United Kingdom
London appeal court quashes judge’s gagging order
25 May - United Kingdom
Right to information threatened by parliamentary bill
26 February - United Kingdom
Freedom of information faces double threat
19 January - United Kingdom - Northern Ireland
Alarm about bill that would increase police search powers in Northern Ireland

in the annual report
United- Kingdom - Annual Report 2008
United Kingdom - Annual report 2007

Europe press releases
4 June - Kosovo
Rrokum TV station still excluded by national broadcasting network
2 June - Ukraine
Potential witness’s death deals severe blow to probe into journalist’s murder
2 June - Turkey
Woman journalist held for past five weeks on baseless charge of link to armed group
2 June - Russia
Journalist seeks asylum in Finland after being convicted for prison torture articles
29 May - France
Regrettable decision by appeal court to lift ban on magazine only if offending photo is covered up

5 February 2009 - Bulgaria
“Resignation or resistance, Bulgaria’s embattled press hesitates”
28 January 2009 - Russia
Fact-finding visit : Moscow double murder may have been linked to November attack on local newspaper editor
27 June 2008 - Turkey
Investigation report into the detention of journalist Haci Bogatekin, imprisoned for more than two months and facing ten and a half years in prison

Sign the petitions
Jusuf Ruzimuradov

Europe archives
2009 archives
2008 archives
2007 archives
2006 archives
2005 archives
2004 archives
2003 archives
2002 archives
2001 archives
2000 archives