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The trouble of telling: journalists' legal obligations to disclose information to the authorities



British counter-terrorism laws oblige journalists disclose information to the authorities in some circumstances. Under the Terrorism Act 2000, where a journalist comes to believe that a person possess property or money that is being used or may in future be used for the purposes of terrorism, then they must tell the authorities of their belief and provide the information on which that belief is based. A failure to do so constitutes a criminal offence and leaves a journalist liable to prosecution and imprisonment. These laws – which are both very broad and very uncertain in their operation – raise complex legal, ethical and practical issues for journalists and media organizations.

They potentially have significant affects on news gathering and reporting in the UK and beyond. This paper examines the operation of these laws, drawing especially on interviews with journalists, lawyers, police, and other security and government officials to examine both the potential and actual effects of the laws. In doing so, it also explores the methodological difficulties of researching how the laws operate, the democratic implications of these and related laws which affect the media (especially with regard to the significance of investigative journalism), and the extent to which such laws are consistent with the wider goals of the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Dr Lawrence McNamara is a Reader in Law at the University of Reading. Before joining Reading in 2007, Lawrence taught in Australian universities for several years. His research interests lie primarily in the legal regulation of speech, especially as it relates to the media. He is the author of Reputation and Defamation (Oxford University Press, 2007). His current research focuses on the ways that counter-terrorism laws affect the media. He holds a joint ESRC/AHRC Fellowship in Ideas and Beliefs for a three-year research project (2009-2012) titled ‘Law, Terrorism and the Right to Know’ ( The Fellowship is funded under the RCUK research programme, Global Uncertainties: Security for All in a Changing World.

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4.00pm - 6.00pmWednesday 2nd February 2011