Cold water poured on claims MoD press office could replace D-notice committee

A Whitehall source has scotched suggestions that the Ministry of Defence press office could take over the job of steering the media away from publishing information relating to national security.

Ministry of Defence press office: Subject to speculation regarding the D-notice committee  (Credit: Ian Bottle)
Ministry of Defence press office: Subject to speculation regarding the D-notice committee (Credit: Ian Bottle)

The suggestions surfaced in a Sunday Times report that the so-called D-notice committee, which was formed in 1912 to prevent German spies getting information from British newspapers, could be reformed. Sources quoted by the paper said senior MoD officials wanted to make the committee either part of the new press watchdog proposed by the Government or brought under the control of the MoD press office.

However, while acknowledging the prospect of a review, a well-placed government figure with insight into the MoD told PRWeek the press office idea "won't happen".

The committee, which comprises media representatives and senior civil servants, is supposed to be consulted by the media with regards to the publication of material relating to intelligence and national security. Although its recommendations are not legally binding they tend to be followed.

However, in a recent report, the committee’s secretary Air Vice-Marshal Andrew Vallance raised concerns after a series of revelations around government mass surveillance were leaked by Edward Snowden. He claimed The Guardian had "avoided engaging with the D-notice system before publishing the first tranche of information".

The Whitehall source told PRWeek a review of the system was right in the context of "a quickly evolving media landscape". 

However, pointing to the fact that the committee’s remit spanned several departments that dealt with national security, such as the Home Office and Cabinet Office, they added:

"The MoD can talk about the bits that relate to its piece of the military puzzle, but it couldn’t talk about other intelligence matters, so the move wouldn’t make sense."

The committee is formally known as the Defence, Press and Broadcasting Advisory Committee while D-notices are also known as DA-notices.

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