Defence Advisory (DA) Notice System

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DA-Notice Committee circa 2008.
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In the United Kingdom, D-Notices are a voluntary system of press censorship. The name stands for the note (meaning 'Defence Notice', nowawadays a 'Defence Advisory Notice', or 'DA Notice'), issued by a the Defence Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee consisting of representatives of the Government and from the media. They are legally 'advisory' notices, and may be ignored. [1]

However, as Moyra Grant, author of the book, The D Notice, states, "The guidelines also state pointedly that the D Notice system is a useful reminder of the legal sanctions which may be brought to bear if an editor or producer oversteps the mark. Moreover, pressure to comply can be overwhelming". [2]

The media, she writes, are afraid to push the line too hard, more severe restrictions might follow and notes "there are currently eight general [kinds of] D Notices (which, incidentally, used to be secret information themselves, but were made public in 1982)":

  • Defence plans, operational capability, state of readiness and training
  • Defence equipment
  • Nuclear weapons and equipment
  • Radio and radar transmissions
  • Cyphers and communications
  • British security and intelligence services
  • War precautions and civil defence
  • Photography etc. of defence establishments and installations

History

The official version of events [3] are that the Admiralty and the War Office decided that they needed some means of stopping the press from publishing information which might be of value to a future enemy. After some 'informal discussion with the press', the then Secretary of the Admiralty met in 1912 with representatives of the War Office and various Press Associations to discuss the problem. It was agreed that an organisation should be set up to deal with the matter, on which the Press would be represented. The Press representatives sought, and got, assurance that only matters that really did affect the National interest would be concerned.

The arrangement was that if the Admiralty or the War Office wished to inform the Press of something which should not be published the War Office would get in touch and a meeting of the Committee would be convened and the members would be consulted. The London Editors would be sent the agreed notice. Telegrams for provincial Editors were to be sent to the local Post Master whose duty it would be to hand them personally to the Editor concerned. These telegrams came to be known as "Parkers" after a Mr. Parker who was at that time the representative of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association on the Committee.

But before the end of 1912 a letter which was sent to convene the meeting:

"So far we have considered on the Committee, and are using the organisation of the Committee, for the purpose of the suppression of the publication of news which, until we have given it ourselves to the Press, is not known beyond Whitehall; but there are cases at times of important information supplied from entirely outside sources to the Press which they publish without question, though on the face of it the information is of a Confidential or Secret nature and is such that its publication is clearly against the public interest."

Before the outbreak of war in 1939 the D-Notice system was disbanded and replaced by Press Censorship under the Ministry of Information. During this period Admiral George Thompson was the Chief Press Censor and he it was who at the end of the war took on the duties of Secretary of what was then called the Admiralty, War Office, Air Ministry and Press Committee, the press having insisted that the Government should provide a Secretary and should arrange and pay for the distribution of D-Notices.

The official history of the D-Notice system states:

During his time as Chief Press Censor, Admiral Thompson had of course become well known to the Press and it is evident from the many letters which were written to him at the end of the war that he had earned their universal respect, and indeed admiration. Under him the system proceeded happily until he retired in the early sixties. In 1967 however the unfortunate MI5 Cable Vetting affair and the intemperate reaction, as he himself subsequently admitted, of the then PM (Mr. Wilson) almost resulted in the system's demise, but it survived and recovered its breath under the wise Secretaryship of Vice Admiral Sir Norman Denning and the guidance of the Committee which had in the meantime been retitled the Services, Press and Broadcasting Committee. [4]

In 1971 a major change was made by cancelling all existing D-Notices and replacing them with standing D-Notices to give recipients sufficient guidance on subjects in which considerations of national security could be involved, to enable an editor to decide whether to "publish, spike or seek advice from the Secretary." The Committee's title was changed first to the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Committee, and in 1993 to the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee, when the 6 standing D-Notices were renamed DA-Notices (Defence Advisory Notices). In May 2000, these were further updated and reduced to the present 5 notices.

Today

Records of a Meeting held on 19 June 2007 [5] state that "a total of 161 enquiries had been received." On UK Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan "13 requests for DA Notice advice had been received. Most of these had been concerned with equipment." There had been a marked increase in enquiries for advice on publishing aerial and satellite photography during the last 7 months. Some of the requests are rather obscure: "The Secretary reported that he had received several enquiries related to the Baker Street bank robbery of 1971. A film called ‘The Bank Job’, due for release next year, was likely to be followed by one or more documentaries on the robbery, a central theme of which was expected to be a ‘cover-up’ through the alleged issuing of a ‘D-Notice’." The Committee are seeking to promote a better understanding of the DA Notice System: "The main target audiences were the armed forces headquarters, official committees, media management and media schools of journalism. Briefings had been given to a group of London-based International Correspondents, the Media Emergency Forum, Goldsmith’s College, University of London, the BBC New [sic] Editorial Board and University College Falmouth."

People

Committee, June 2013

Government Members

Media Members

Secretary

Former Government members

Previous committee members include: K R Tebbit, Permanent Under Secretary of State, MoD; DB Omand, Permanent Under Secretary at the Home Office, RT Jackling, 2nd Permanent Under Secretary, MoD, DJ Manning, deputy Under Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Secretary, Rear Admiral DM Pulvertaft; Deputy Secretary, Commander FN Ponsonby,[7] Sir Ian Andrews CBE TD: 2nd Permanent Under Secretary of State Ministry of Defence, Mrs Mariot Leslie CMG DG: Defence & Intelligence Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Sir David Norminton KCB: Permanent Under Secretary of State Home Office, Sir Richard Mottram KCB: Permanent Secretary and Security Intelligence Co-ordinator Cabinet Office, *Bill Jeffrey CB: Permanent Under Secretary of State Ministry of Defence.

Previous Media Members

Richard Hutchinson: Editorial Policy Adviser to Jane's Information Group, J D Bishop: Editor-in-Chief Illustrated London News Group, H Carnegy: Executive Editor The Financial Times, E Curran:The Belfast Telegraph, R Esser: Executive Managing Editor Daily Mail, J Battle: Head of Compliance Independent Television News, J McLellan: Editor Edinburgh Evening News, S Irwin: Editorial Director Kent Messenger

Composition

The Committee is chaired by the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence. There are four members representing the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Cabinet Office.

There are thirteen members nominated by the media; three by the Newspaper Publishers Association, two by the Newspaper Society, two by the Periodical Publishers Association and one each by the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, the Press Association, the BBC, ITN, ITV, and Sky TV. The Publishers Association was invited in 1993 and in 2000 to nominate a representative but declined.

The Press and Broadcasting members respond to proposals from the government departments concerned and advise the Committee on those areas of information in which it may be reasonable to invite guidance reflecting the interests of national security. Official proposals may not be issued in DA-Notice form without the consent of the Press and Broadcasting members.

The DA-Notices are intended to provide to national and provincial newspaper editors, to periodicals editors, to radio and television organisations and to relevant book publishers, general guidance on those areas of national security which the Government considers it has a duty to protect. The Notices, together with a General Introduction, details of the Committee and how to contact the Secretary, are widely distributed to editors, producers and publishers and also to officials in Government departments, military commanders, chief constables and some institutions. The Notices have no legal standing and advice offered within their framework may be accepted or rejected partly or wholly. [8]

Resources

  • D-Notice No. 10
  • Secrecy and the Media The Official History of the United Kingdom's D-Notice System By Nicholas John Wilkinson, ISBN: 978-0-415-45375-2 Routledge Publication Date: 05/26/2009.
  • Angela Millar and David Miller, Rose Gentle Censored by MoD, 'Spinwatch', 22 September 2004, archived at the internet Archive.
  • David Miller, Fake journalists, 'Spinwatch', 19 March 2005.

Notes

  1. 'History of D-Notice', web.archive.org/DA-Notices website, accessed 24 April, 2009.
  2. Moyra Grant, 'The D-Notice', Serendipity website, accessed 24 April, 2009.
  3. 'History of the D-Notice System', dnotice.org.uk, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  4. 'History of the D-Notice System', dnotice.org.uk, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  5. 'Records of the past DPBAC meetings', dnotice.org.uk, accessed 15 April, 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Committee, Dnotice.org.uk, archived by Google, 19 July 2013, accessed 2 August 2013.
  7. Cal McCrystal, 'The sub-secret underworld of the D-Notice business', British Journalism Review Vol. 10, No. 2, 1999.
  8. 'How the System Works', dnotice.org.uk, accessed 15 April, 2009.