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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Public Interest defence needed for news gathering and protection against state snooping on whistleblowers and journalist’s sources

Press Release
Release date: 25 February 2021

The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) calls on Parliament to legislate for the protection of journalists and their sources by recognising a public interest defence for news gathering.

It also says the Snooper’s Charter needs to be reformed so government hacking of journalists’ communications is subject to open justice scrutiny.

The Institute is the world’s longest established professional association of journalists and the only one holding a Royal Charter.

In a special report produced for the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee’s enquiry into online freedom of expression, the Institute has highlighted how up to 50 state investigation agencies are able to secretly access journalists’ Internet and mobile phone data whenever there is a ‘leak’ enquiry.

All of the interception approval and oversight is being done secretly by ‘largely unknown and shadow bodies,’ the Investigatory Powers Commissioners’ Office (IPCO) and Office for Communications Data Authorisations (OCDA).

Institute President Professor Tim Crook says the Snooper’s Charter legislation passed in 2016 called ’The Investigatory Powers Act’ has ‘created an open door for secret snooping on journalists and their sources. Any investigation into any kind of public interest story based on a leak or whistle-blowing source can be defined as ‘a serious crime’ and it’s open season.

We don’t know what’s going on because all the oversight is done in the shadows and the IPCO reports more than a year later with no details of the journalists and publications hacked by state agencies which can include any police force or intelligence organisation.’

The Institute recommends ‘An across-the-board public interest defence in professional media cases is an essential pathway to providing the necessary protection for the social watchdog role of journalists and journalism that sustains democracy and basic liberty in a fair and stable society.’

The CIoJ report reveals that it has ‘advocated for many years for a statutory declaration of media freedom equivalent to that afforded to the Judiciary in our constitution’ which creates ‘a pragmatic priority for freedom of expression and the media.’

The Institute’s investigation, report and recommendations are available online at: