The Bureau of Investigative Journalism – a non-profit investigative news outlet which pursues stories which are in the public interest – has written to the Prime Minister to demand the release of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on “Russia”. On October 17th the Committee announced it had completed its Report and had handed it over to the Prime Minister’s office, who must confirm that the report does not contain any information which, if published, could jeopardize the work of the intelligence Agencies.
On the 17th, the Committee stated that they expected to be able to publish the report “imminently”. Today, 29 days later, the report has still not been published because the Prime Minister’s office has failed to provide the necessary authorization. There is no suggestion that the report’s contents could jeopardize the work of counter-terror authorities in any way. The Government have now said that they will continue to withhold authorization for the report to be published until after the General Election on December 12th.
Although no-one but the authors can be certain of what the Report contains, it is likely to include findings of enormous public interest and significance (be that new information, or findings that fears of interference are unfounded). Serious allegations have been made of Russian interference in UK elections and democracy, and this report is likely to shed light on those allegations. Yet the Government, instead of permitting its release, has instead failed to allow publication.
It is not surprising that the Government have failed to permit publication of this report in a timely manner. Although the current administration is relatively new, its recent predecessor had a dire record on transparency and freedom of information.
It took a Hacked Off-backed campaign, for example, to force the Government to reconsider protections for journalists being stopped at borders. Despite flaws in the Official Secrets Act which could lead to unfair prosecutions against journalists uncovering information in the public interest – exposed by the aftermath of the leaking of the Sir Kim Darroch cables – the Government have still failed to reform the law. And most damningly of all: the unilateral cancellation of the judge-inquiry into police, press and political corruption, Leveson Part Two.
Provided there is no information which comprises national security and the work of the intelligence Agencies, the report should be published without further delay.
It is disappointing that, after initial negative reactions in most newspapers, some of those newspapers have failed to maintain scrutiny of the Government’s ongoing failure to allow publication. (Credit to those who have continued to feature scrutiny of the Government’s actions over this report.)
Public and journalistic access to information such as this report as soon as it is safe to be published is critical to a free and informed society.