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Declassified UK receives apology from Ministry of Defence after ‘blacklisting’ incident

An investigative journalism group has received an apology from the Ministry of Defence after it appeared to have been blacklisted in response to a question about the UK and Yemen.

22 September 2020

The MoD has also announced an independent review into allegations that communications standards and the civil service code has been breached, and why.

A statement was made to the House of Commons on Monday 21 September by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who said he was ‘deeply concerned’ that standards were alleged to have not been met. He promised to report back following the review.

Leigh Day lawyers raised an urgent query with the MoD after its press office refused to provide a comment to Declassified UK on an emerging story that a serving soldier had been arrested following a protest regarding the UK’s involvement in Yemen
 
The MoD initially said it would provide comment in due course but changed tack after a press officer asked Declassified “what sort of angle have you taken on the war in Yemen?”. The journalist was then told: “We no longer deal with your publication”. The MoD provided comment to other media outlets who went on to publish articles on the same story. 
 
Following the Leigh Day letter to the MoD, questions on the matter were asked in the House of Commons.
 
Now the MoD chief operating officer Mike Baker has written to Leigh Day with an apology for Declassified UK. He said:

“The Directorate of Defence Communications was wrong not to provide a comment to Mr Miller of Declassified Media Limited on the story about which he was enquiring.”

Mr Baker explained that a review would be held into allegations that “the standards of the Civil Service Code and Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance have not always been met in the department, and to establish what underlies them”.

Defence Secretary, Mr Wallace, addressed the Commons and said:

“All Government media and communication professionals must abide by the Government Communication Service’s propriety guidance and the civil service code. The Ministry of Defence is no different.

“However, I have been deeply concerned that those standards are alleged not always to have been met in the Department. I am treating the allegation with the utmost seriousness. The Ministry of Defence I lead will treat outlets with fairness and impartiality.

“I am today writing to Defence communicators across the MOD and all services to emphasise that point. I have therefore asked former director general and communications professional Tom Kelly to lead an independent review to look into the allegations that have been made and establish what underlies them. I will report back to the House once the review has been concluded.”

Mark Curtis, Editor of Declassified, said: 

“We very much welcome the MOD’s apology and commitment to a review. Declassified UK has quickly become the foremost media organisation revealing the UK’s real role in the world, in contrast to an increasingly sycophantic national press. A vibrant democracy demands that public officials cooperate with journalists acting in the public interest”.
 
Leigh Day solicitor Tom Short said:

“Our client is pleased that the Defence Secretary has taken a firm stand against the actions of those in his department’s press office that we believe were in breach of civil service standards and posed a disturbing threat to impartial press coverage of defence stories.

“It is fundamental to the freedom of the press that every enquiry by journalists should be engaged with frankly and fairly. Our client is hopeful that the Defence Secretary’s call for an independent review may lead to higher standards within the MoD communications team.”

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