This is all about secrets. As far as the law is concerned, there are two types of secret: Official Secrets and Private Secrets.

The Official Secrets Act prevents government secrets from being made public. This area mainly affects certain types of investigative journalism and reporting communities with links to the armed forces. One main danger of breaching the OSA is in accidentally filming and MoD area or carelessly disclosing information such as the movements of a military unit.

In today’s lecture, Chris spoke about the D-Notice (Defence Notice). It’s worth knowing that in 1993 this changed and it is now called a DA Notice. This clearly isn’t common knowledge as the DA-Notice website URL is I thought that the official website would describe it best, so here it is, copied and pasted:

The DA-Notice system is a voluntary code that provides guidance to the British media on the publication or broadcasting of national security information. The objective is to prevent inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations and methods, or put at risk the safety of those involved in such operations, or lead to attacks that would damage the critical national infrastructure and/or endanger lives. The system is overseen by the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, a joint government/media body that approves the standing DA notices and monitors their implementation.

There are five ‘Standing DA-Notices, in which "it is requested that disclosure or publication of highly classified information… of the kind listed below should not be made without first seeking advice”

These are:
DA-Notice 01: Military Operations, Plans and Capabilities
DA-Notice 02: Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Weapons and Equipment
DA-Notice 03: Ciphers & Secure Communications
DA-Notice 04: Sensitive installations & Home Addresses
DA-Notice 05: United Kingdom Security, Intelligence Services and Special Services

In addition to these, individual DA-Notices are issued when sensitive information finds its way to the press.

I had a browse through the website and it’s actually very informative and user-friendly. I definitely recommend looking at it.

Private secrets can be broken down into two sub-categories. They are both covered by the same law, but personal secrets are backed up by the Human Rights Act:

Commercial Secrets/Trade Secrets
This covers disclosure of information such as planned price changes and other business and marketing strategies. If a person is employed by another for wages (or even as a volunteer) they owe the employer a common law (duty of confidence) even if this is not specified in the contract of employment, or if there is no contract at all. Breaching this can cause a person to be sacked with no compensation or reference.

If someone suspects something corrupt happening at work, they can try for protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998. Lots of information can be had on the Public Concern at Work website as recommended by Chris Horrie, and the document itself can be found here at the Office of Public Sector Information.

Personal Secrets/Family Secrets
Invasion of family life is a danger for journalists, especially now that Section 8 of the Human Rights Act, which gives everyone the right to enjoy a normal private life, bolsters it.

In libel the accusing party does not have to prove they’ve been harmed. But in privacy law, they do have to prove they have suffered.

What is ‘Breach of Confidence’?
A person is in breach of confidence if they pass on information which:

a) has the necessary quality of confidence. Important and not already known.


b) was provided in circumstances imposing an obligation. When a reasonable person would expect it to be kept secret, such as a one-on-one consultation with a boss or with a professional, such as a doctor.


c) there was no permission to pass on the information


d) Detriment is caused to the person who gave the information

All of the above must be present to constitute a breach of confidence.

Protecting Yourself
Always announce that you are a journalist and announce where the information will be published. Keep checking with your source that they are happy for the information to be published or broadcast and be sure that they are aware that confidence is being breached. Be sure to have shorthand notes or a recording of this permission.

In Privacy, public interest is a defence. For example, if the police failed to investigate a fraud or make it public, a journalist could breach confidence as it is in the public interest.

The public interest is the opposite of malice. It is a big defence, but as it is not in statute there is no legal definition. The best definition we have is that of the Press Complaints Commision (PCC) which defines it under three points:
1) Material that exposes crime when the police fail
2) Exposing harm to the community generally
3) The Public being misled.

Case Studies
Graham Pink tells his story

Bill Goodwin Information

Princess Caroline of Monaco