Journalists hit out at 'draconian' new MoD laws on reporting links to media


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The Independent Online

Journalists have reacted with anger to “draconian” new Ministry of Defence rules which demand that members of the armed forces must report any social contact they have with people who work in the media.

The revised and wide-ranging instructions also apply to “individuals with known links to the media”, including “academics, representatives of industry, think-tanks or lobby groups, or former serving personnel with a media profile”.

The MoD media clampdown follows embarrassing stories leaked to journalists by frontline personnel exposing shortcomings in equipment used by serving troops in locations such as Afghanistan.

Revealing details of the new guidelines, Press Gazette interpreted the MoD action as part of a wider assault on the freedom of the press, following recent revelations that the Metropolitan Police seized phone records of journalists to identify sources of leaks in the “Plebgate” scandal.

The measures amount to “worse than control freak lunacy”, said Chris Hughes, defence and security editor on the Daily Mirror in posts on Twitter. “We should all be angry about this – there are laws and systems in place protecting national security.”

Sean O’Neill, crime correspondent of The Times, said the rules appeared “even more draconian” than those imposed on meetings between police officers and journalists.

When a member of the armed forces makes unplanned contact with a journalist they are required to “immediately notify media staff and provide a written account of the contact”, warns the MoD. “These rules still apply if individuals encounter journalists or other members of the news media in a social setting (whether work-related or not).” Failure to comply with the rules will result in disciplinary action.

The Ministry responded to media anger by issuing a statement claiming that the guidelines had been revised to reflect changes in the use of social media but did not amount to a new direction in policy.

“This type of instruction has been in effect for over 15 years and is in place to ensure our personnel are protected when engaging with the media,” it said. “This is no different to what you would find in a multinational business organisation. We have recently updated our 2011 version to reflect the need to be mindful on social and digital channels.”