Protecting state secrets: The Defence Advisory notice (D-notice)

If you’re reading this in the UK and wonder why all went quiet in news media after Snowden’s revelations of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret Prisim program in the Guardian on June 6, this is why: the very next day, the Department of Defence issued a DA-notice warning news media of making ‘inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations and methods’.

DA notices (usually shortened to D-notices) are products of a system of self-censorship in which news editors liaise with military and government officials to protect State secrets.

DA-Notices are issued by the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee (DPBAC), an advisory body composed of senior civil servants and editors from national and regional newspapers, periodicals, news agencies, television and radio. It operates on the shared belief that there is a continuing need for a system of guidance and advice such as the DA-Notice System, and that a voluntary, advisory basis is best for such a system. (General Introduction to DA-Notices)

It is forbidden to even reveal the existence of a D-notice. This latest one was marked, “Private and Confidential: Not for publication, broadcast or use on social media.”

But the alternative press isn’t bound by this moral compact. The leak against this notice of a ban on further leaks came from the US-based And Magazine, the very same day, UK TO BRIT HACKS: SHUT UP 

It was then repeated in the London based Guido Fawkes’ blog the next morning and the established news organs felt obliged to stir themselves to action.

A little over a week later the Guardian broke protocol and published MoD serves news outlets with D notice over surveillance leaks followed by Simon Jenkins’ Britain’s response to the NSA story? Back off and shut up: ‘The war on terror is rotting the internal organs of free states’.

D-notices are handed out not infrequently, usually when there’s a serious risk of disclosures embarrassing the government. The one issued on June 7th essentially threw a wet blanket over  Snowden’s revelations in the Guardian and prevented news of them being disseminated.

For an example see D-Notice No. 10

For more in depth analysis see Cal McCrystal. The sub-secret underworld of the D-Notice businessBritish Journalism Review, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1999

The DA-notice system Official Site

The featured image shows the D-notice advisory committee circa 2007.


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