Journalists at a military and foreign policy news website are considering legal action against the Ministry of Defence after its press office appeared to have “blacklisted” them.
Declassified UK said the move amounted to censorship of an independent news website that takes a critical eye of UK foreign policy.
Editor Mark Curtis, who co-founded Declassified with Matt Kennard last year, told Press Gazette: “We are looking at taking legal action against the MoD because we think they have certainly acted against the Civil Service Code, for example, and there may be other codes of conduct or other legal requirements that they might not be consistent with by telling us that.”
The Civil Service Code states that civil servants must not “act in a way that unjustifiably favours or discriminates against particular individuals or interests”.
The website, which is hosted as a subsite under the South Africa-based newsbrand Daily Maverick, contacted the MoD press office last week for comment on a story about a British soldier being investigated for protesting the war in Yemen.
A press officer first told journalist Phil Miller that he “did not know too much about Declassified” and later asked: “What sort of angle are you taking about the war in Yemen?”
He later told Miller he was “not going to be able to send you anything today” and advised him to send a Freedom of Information request instead, according to the website’s account of events.
The Telegraph later published a story about the same soldier which included a comment from an army spokesperson, leading Miller to ask why he had not been given a response.
The press officer then allegedly said “we no longer deal with your publication” and declined to provide any further explanation.
Curtis has since written to the press officer asking for confirmation whether it is now the MoD’s policy to blacklist Declassified’s journalists and, if so, why it has taken this position. He never received a response.
Curtis told Press Gazette it was “obvious” the MoD had decided to stop dealing with his website because it was taking a “critical stance” towards UK policy.
“The MoD is used to dealing with compliant journalists who basically amplify and repeat what they want,” he said. “We’re taking a different stance.
“We’re actually trying to reveal what the UK military is doing in the world and we think that’s why they don’t want to deal with us.”
National Union of Journalists assistant general secretary Seamus Dooley offered his support and urged Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to intervene “and ensure that there is no banned list within the ministry”.
He said: “The NUJ would be extremely concerned at any unilateral ban by a government department on questions from selected news organisations or publications.”
Dooley added: “Journalists from Declassified UK have regularly contacted the Ministry of Defence for comment as part of their normal journalistic practice. It is the duty of journalists to question and to challenge those who exercise power and responsibility. Part of that role is to verify reports and to afford all sides of a story the opportunity to respond to allegations which may be made.”
An MoD spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
Picture: PA Wire/Tim Ireland