The right to know is a Briton’s “birth right”

THE DEFENCE Advisory’s (DA) Notice Secretary, Andrew Vallance delivered a speech at the last of this term’s Coventry Conversations on how the controversial subject of secrecy is handled to maintain our country’s national security, writes Adam Manning.

To divulge further, Vallance was keen to highlight that his organisation tries to create a compromise between allowing and pushing for intriguing information to be published, yet all the while urging caution to the media not to be too specific about subjects which could make British associates vulnerably easy to target.

As an institution, the DA was set-up to advise media figures, broadcast or print, on whether revealing sensitive information discovered by them is suitable to be disclosed in the public domain. 

Vallance said the DA “provides advice to avoid the inadvertent publication or broadcasting of information that would damage UK national security”, but “facilitates maximum freedom of the media to report in the public interest”.

In a country such as the UK where secrecy is taken very seriously, Vallance described the need to know as a “birth right” to every Briton.  But as there is increasing amounts of information being published online around the world, it limits the effectiveness of the DA’s principles as its services only censor domestic based media.

committee

The DA Committee, with Vallance (first on left)

At a time when terrorism is a live issue in modern society, most recently involving the IRA’s presence in Northern Ireland, Vallance noted that the DA has important challenges to persuade media organisations to think about the material they’re publishing before they display it to the world.

The DA Notice System has five standing notices for the British media, advising against the publication of information on: 

  1. Britain’s military operations;
  2. Weapons;
  3. Communications,
  4. Addresses;
  5. Services. 

Vallance pointed out the increasing dominance of the internet and the fiercely competitive media world as the main challenges.  The ex-RAF member believes that there would only be two other alternatives to the DA. One would be to create government legislation which would prevent media institutions from printing certain types of information, which could effectively be transferring the DA’s five standing notice’s to Parliament.

The other – a more damning alternative, according to Vallance – would be to have a “media free for all without a security safety net”. The latter suggests that if all current secret information was released, which would undoubtedly cut costs for data storage and any legal ramblings, would anybody actually take any significance from comparing how many weapons country a, b or c has?

In the modern climate, the likelihood is that vulnerable countries would be targeted from figures released in the press, and so although the Defence Advisory Notice System has no authoritative enforcement, it’s a hindrance to any media moguls who may contemplate prioritising the financial lure of popularity over national security in the future.

  • Adam Manning is a first year journalism student
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