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Crying wolf: Invoking “national security” as grounds for censorship

Lashmar, P. ORCID: 0000-0001-9049-3985 (2023). Crying wolf: Invoking “national security” as grounds for censorship. In: Steel, J. & Petley, J. (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Freedom of Expression and Censorship. . Routledge. doi: 10.4324/9780429262067-36


Citing “national security” is a catch-all defence for governments justifying repressive actions against journalists who are probing incompetence, corruption and malfeasance by the state. For governments its merit is that it trades on the mystique and unknowability of the world of intelligence, where the public accepts there are some matters that only government can judge. However it frequently abuses a fundamental: The political contract between the people and the state whereby the citizen surrenders certain rights to government in return for security. Frequently drawing on the author’s own experiences as a journalist, the chapter covers matters such as the Spycatcher affair, the repeated attempts to toughen the Official Secrets Act so as to deter further whistle-blowers, the use of the Islamicist terror threat in order to increase the frequency of the use of the “national security” justification for censorship in many jurisdictions, and the publication by The Guardian of classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, which revealed that the eavesdropping agencies of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand had acted illegally. The paper was threatened by the government and attacked by government-supporting newspapers and the intelligence lobby for allegedly undermining national security. The chapter argues that such responses to revelations of official wrongdoing make the media’s role as a watchdog guarding the public interest well-nigh impossible. This pattern is repeated in many countries, and the result is the growth of unfettered national security states in which the fourth estate has all but lost its investigative capability.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in The Routledge Companion to Freedom of Expression and Censorship on 11 December 2023, available online:
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
K Law > K Law (General)
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
[thumbnail of Complete Lashmar - Copy PL rev(1).pdf] Text - Accepted Version
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