23 Sep 2020 Lvl. 2
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Alert created on: 01 Sep 2020 n° 100/2020 United Kingdom

Investigative Media Outlet "Declassified UK" Blacklisted by the Ministry of Defence

Source of threatState
CategoryOther acts having chilling effects on media freedom
Partner Index AEJ IPI
Partner Index AEJ IPI
On the morning of 25 August 2020, journalist Phil Miller from the investigative media outlet Declassified UK contacted the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to request a comment about the arrest of Ahmed al Babati, a serving soldier, near Downing Street for protesting the United Kingdom’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen. He received a call back from the MOD and was told that they had “something good to go” and that it would be sent on to Miller shortly.

During the phone call, Miller was asked “What sort of angle have [Declassified UK] taken on the war in Yemen?”. Miller replied: “It’s just very factually documenting British military and defence industry support for the Saudi-led coalition”.

Less than an hour later, Miller received an email telling him that the MOD was not going to send him anything that day, but that he should “submit an FOI [Freedom of Information request] for anything that you require”.

Later that day, when the Telegraph newspaper published their article “Government has 'blood on hands' says serving soldier investigated for protesting against war in Yemen while wearing uniform”, it became evident that the MOD had provided the Telegraph with a comment. Miller called the MOD to enquire as to why Declassified UK were not provided with a comment. He was told: “We no longer deal with your publication”. When Miller asked why, the speaker on the phone told him that he did not know the reason, but that he would find someone who could explain the decision. That contact information was never provided to Miller or Declassified UK.

On 26 August Mark Curtis, editor of Declassified UK, emailed the MOD to seek confirmation that it is now MOD's policy to blacklist Declassified UK . No response was received to that communication. Declassified UK is now considering legal action.
New 23 Sep 2020: On 22 September 2020, lawyers acting for Declassified UK received a letter from the MOD admitting that it was wrong not to have provided a comment to their request. The MOD apologised for the wrongdoing. The letter followed a statement made by Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, on 21 September, which said that "all Government media and communication professionals must abide by the Government Communication Service’s propriety guidance and the civil service code". He said that he was "deeply concerned that those standards are alleged not always to have been met in the Department." He also said that he was ordering an independent review into the blacklisting of Declassified UK and would report back to the House once the review had been concluded.   Statement by the Secretary of State for Defence
New 10 Sep 2020
The MOD hasn't responded to either DeclassifiedUK or their lawyers' questions about the reason for the decision to blacklist them. Leigh Day, acting on behalf of Declassified UK, had the MOD a deadline of 4pm on 10 September by which to respond, but it was missed. Responding to a parliamentary question on 8 September, one Conservative MP and defence minister said: "the Ministry of Defence engages with media outlets who report responsibly", thereby implying that DeclassifiedUK's reporting is irresponsible. On 10 September, another Conservative MP and defence minister said that they were "looking into the specifics". On 11 September, responses to two more parliamentary questions were answered reiterating that statement.
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