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December 1, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:49am

Declassified journalists complain of being ‘blacklisted’ by second Government department this year

By Charlotte Tobitt

A journalist at foreign policy website Declassified UK has obtained emails appearing to show he was “blacklisted” by the GCHQ press office for writing a “negative long-read”.

Declassified co-founder and head of investigations Matt Kennard put in a subject access request (under the Data Protection Act) for the personal data held on him by the intelligence agency in September after months of trying and failing to engage with its press office.

He told Press Gazette he wanted to find out if a decision had been taken not to deal with him after he published an investigation into a controversial schools programme run by GCHQ in June.

Most of the emails released under the data request were sent on 2 June, the day the investigation was published.

One said: “NCSC [National Cyber Security Centre] are dealing with this chap” but that “[redacted] is going to ignore of course”.

Another critiques Kennard’s article, describing it as a “negative long-read” and confirming that the communications team had “rebutted all of his claims to date”.

That email and another sent just over an hour later both reiterated “we will not be engaging further” in regard to Kennard’s questions for the next part of his three-part investigation.

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Neither GCHQ nor NCSC, which manages the schools programme on its behalf, have responded to any requests since then, former FT journalist Kennard (pictured) said.

Before publication he received some basic information from NCSC but requests for interviews and site visits were refused.

“I find it outrageous that the country’s largest intelligence agency—funded by the British public to the tune of over a billion pounds annually—just stops engaging with a journalist because it believes his stories paint GCHQ’s operations in a ‘negative’ light,” he said.

“It’s doubly worrying in this case because the programme I wanted some basic information on involves thousands of children. In a system that calls itself a democracy, we have a right to know what these types of programmes involve.”

[Read more: MoD apologises after press office refused to engage with Declassified journalists]

Kennard also discovered he had been mentioned in an email sent in February with the subject line “Watch out watch out there’s a journo about”.

However Press Gazette understands this was sent by an external address to the GCHQ team, seemingly in response to him turning up at the lead school in the programme in an attempt to secure an interview.

An NCSC spokesperson told Press Gazette: “Public engagement is at the heart of everything the NCSC does in its work to make the UK the safest place to live and work online.

“We carefully considered the requests from this publication, as we would with any other, and provided it with both background information and on-the-record comment.”

Kennard said the batch of emails disclosed to him were incomplete, with some only showing parts of a chain and none relating to the third part of his investigation.

Journalists at Declassified UK were recently blacklisted by the Ministry of Defence, which told reporter Phil Miller: “We no longer deal with your publication.”

The MoD has since apologised and pledged to treat all media outlets “with fairness and impartiality”. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace commissioned an independent review into what happened, the findings of which are expected shortly.

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Picture: Matt Kennard

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