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Thursday, August 29, 2002
A plea for a new Official Secrets Act

Many years ago, in a far off country, I was travelling on a train from point A to point B (OK - from New York to Boston) when I got into conversation with several other passengers. I was amazed to find that, of all the subjects they wanted to discuss, The Royal Family came top of the list. They all seemed to know much more about the whole silly business than I did. They were particularly horrified that I was uncertain about the names of some of the younger members. Apparently, this was the sort of information published in tabloid newspapers.

Recently, there was a case involving a northern footballer who had been, as it were, spreading his favours beyond the marriage bed. The cheeky chappie managed to get a series of court injunctions, forbidding the press to make his name public. Eventually, the injunction was overturned and his name was published. The newspaper concerned maintained that it was a matter of public interest.

The third example of trivia masquerading as news is the apparent importance of what is happening to the characters and/or the actors in soap operas. The tabloid newspapers frequently have this sort of stuff on their front pages.

Our government has, in the past, maintained that we need more freedom of information and, accordingly, that the Official Secrets Act needs to be reformed. Here are my suggestions for some new clauses in the revised act:
It shall be regarded as an offence to report any of the following:

The existence or the activities of the royal family or any of their hangers on.

The doings of any sports star, footballers in particular, other than in their explicit performances on the field.

The plotlines, the names of characters and the actors playing them in any soap opera. This clause also includes anything to do with 'Big Brother'. (Later consideration will be given to including anyone concerned with the production of such programmes.)

Offenders under this section of the act will be given substantial terms of imprisonment.
It is very important that we should keep secret what must be rightly regarded as secret. Is it possible that, with one inspired piece of legislation, we could 'persuade' editors to give us real news?

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