In Russia’s wake

The UK Government is capitalising on the conflict between Russia and the US-led alliance, to try to push a National Security Bill through Parliament. If enacted, the legislation in question will make it a criminal offence for anybody to report “restricted” information if that person – say a journalist or his/her organisation – has received funding from abroad. Investigative journalists and whistle blowers will risk ending up in jail for life.

In my country, the press is pusillanimous these days, now that our former folksy prime minister is the warmongering Secretary General of NATO. So on Monday, the UK Government’s decision to sign Julian Assange’s extradition order was only mentioned on pages 14 and 18 respectively in two of the country’s leading dailies [Dagsavisen and Aftenposten]. Admittedly the heading in both papers was “A dark day for press freedom”. When questioned about the extradition order, the Norwegian Foreign Minister was quoted as blithely “confident that the British authorities adhered fully to their international human rights obligations in this matter.” [Aftenposten, 18/02.22, p. 14]

Not in any Norwegian paper do I find a word about the United Kingdom’s proposed National Security Bill. Russia is ahead of us, of course, as far as persecution of journalists is concerned, but we’re learning, and we’re learning fast:

Allow me to Introduce Section I of the bill:

  1. Obtaining or disclosing protected information
    1. A person commits an offence if—
      • (a) the person—
        • (i) obtains, copies, records or retains protected information, or
        • (ii) discloses or provides access to protected information,
      • (b) the person’s conduct is for a purpose that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom, and
      • (c) the foreign power condition is met in relation to the person’s conduct (see section 24).
    2. In this section “protected information” means any information, document or other article where, for the purpose of protecting the safety or interests of the United Kingdom—
      • (a) access to the information, document or other article is restricted in any way, or
      • (b) it is reasonable to expect that access to the information, document or other article would be restricted in any way.
    3. Subsection (1) applies whether the person’s conduct takes place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.
    4. A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life or a fine (or both).
    5. For the purposes of this section—
      • (a) a person retains protected information if the person retains it in their possession or under their control;
      • (b) disclosure includes parting with possession.

Notice the expression in subsection 2: ” safety or interests of the United Kingdom”. The “interests” of UK could be defined as anything, at the discretion of the powers that be. Obviously.

Notice too, the “foreign power condition”. Just like Russia. Putin must be beaming with pride.

A bill is considered drab reading and rarely makes much headlines. Legalese is a near incomprehensible jargon, and there tends to be introductory assuaging references to “public interest … safety… security” and “protection of the general public”. By the time you get to the crux of the matter, you’ve fallen asleep. But this is a matter of freedom of the press! Have mainstream news outlets ceased to care (unless, of course, the press in question is Russian)? Have they simply given up already?

Please note that many, or maybe even most, humanitarian NGOs apply for and receive aid from numerous countries other than their own. Most worthwhile news publications, including the Guardian, depend on donors from all over the world. Many investigative journalists – those that still dare to operate as such – devote their efforts to exposing corruption. (One of the key characteristics of corruption is that it involves national or local government officials.) The bill in question would threaten them all.

I’m not British. But the British courts have so blatantly disregarded due process on a number of counts in the Assange case, and the frivolous British head of state is so quite obviously not to be trusted and, moreover, not accountable , either to the public or to the prosecuting authority, that I find myself doubting that the British Parliament is any better. If the UK enacts the National Security bill, I fear the rest of Europe will sooner or later follow suit. After all, in all of Europe, a lot of very powerful people have plenty to hide.

A number of prominent foreign affairs experts, historians and diplomats have suggested that Biden and most of his immediate predecessors have orchestrated the Ukraine war. Their articles and warnings are not being printed in the mainstream press, which is why some of them are turning to non-mainstream outlets, such as, while others just shut up. You’re welcome to believe that what they are saying is “Putin propaganda”, but I put to you that we are all, on both sides of the divide, bombarded with propaganda. Meanwhile, the fate of Assange does not invite out-spoken critique of the Western narrative.

If were based in Russia, its editor in chief would no doubt be prosecuted. What I fear is that in the not too distant future, his freedom might be threatened, also in the West. At any rate, the fate of Assange demonstrates that “freedom of the press” is already very limited.