UK takes friendlier approach to journalists in SOCHUM

The UK's delegates in SOCHUM are pushing for more journalistic freedom both nationally and internationally


The United Kingdom’s delegation in SOCHUM is pushing for a friendlier approach to whistleblowing and journalistic freedom following the leaks and revelations of 2013.

The committee has been discussing journalistic freedom versus national security concerns as part of the sixty-first session of the Harvard National Model United Nations conference.

Nearly two years after Edward Snowden’s documents reached The Guardian’s office, the UK seems to be taking a more balanced approach to the issue.

“We want to be more progressive,” says one of two UK delegates.

“With the clauses we’ve put into working papers, we can hopefully be that progressive country that takes the next step in revealing classified documents in a monitored and safe way.”

Specific clauses include declassifying information, releasing documents after a certain amount of time, IDs and documentation for journalists, and standard training for foreign correspondents.

Declassifying information would mean changing the Official Secrets Act of 1989. Specifically, non-sensitive information would be released after five years, which would mean 10 years for more sensitive information and 15 years for top-secret documents, with some exceptions that would never see the light of the day.

“There’s also a clause that enforces the Geneva convention and says things such as genocide could never be hidden by national governments,” says the UK.

Another clause about IDs and documentation would mean more protection for foreign correspondents abroad – a very relevant point as 2014 marked one of the worst years for journalists with 220 reporters jailed around the world in that year only, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“The clause will encourage first aid training, combat training, and language training for reporters so they’re better prepared on the ground. Licensed IDs will mean we’ll have more power to pull them out of dangerous situations or to free them from being imprisoned abroad,” one of the UK delegates explains.

The United Kingdom’s delegates emphasized that the British government will also provide more access to classified files for journalists.

“We feel like if reporters are allowed access to more files, resources, and facilities, we won’t have to be worried about protecting them because they won’t have to seek it out themselves and as a result end up endangering themselves.”

“We want a recognized national and international standard,” the UK says.

When asked about seized hard-drives, the British delegates responded by saying the independent watchdog that the UK has set up following 2013 has been doing the job “well”.

“The safety of people will always come first, of course, but we express our trust that the media will regulate itself and knows that if it publishes national secrets it could be damaging to the safety of our country or other countries.”

The UK says it wants to release as much information as possible on its own so that whistleblowers don’t feel the need to leak documents that could potentially compromise the UK’s national security.

Whether these initiatives will end up in resolutions and working in real life once implemented will be interesting to observe.

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