- The Defence and Security Media Advisory Committee oversees a voluntary code which operates between the Government departments which have responsibilities for national security and the media. It uses the Defence and Security Media Advisory (DSMA)-notice system as its vehicle.
- The aim of the DSMA-notice system is to prevent inadvertent public disclosure of information that would compromise UK military and intelligence operations and methods; or put at risk the safety of those involved in such operations; or lead to attacks that would damage the critical national infrastructure and/or endanger lives.
- Although not subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 or the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, the DSMA Committee is committed to practising a policy of maximum disclosure of its activities consistent with the effective conduct of business and the need to ensure that it honours any assurance of confidentiality given to the individuals and organisations with which it deals.
- The Committee is chaired by the Director General Security Policy, Ministry of Defence. Membership may be varied from time to time by agreement. At present there are four members representing Government departments, one each from the Home Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Cabinet Office. There are currently seventeen members nominated by the Media; five by the News Media Association (NMA), two by the Committee’s Chairs, one by the Professional Publishers Association (but has vacancies for two) and one each by the Scottish Newspaper Society, the Press Association, the BBC, ITN, ITV, Sky TV, the Society of Editors, IHS Markit (Jane’s), the (Book) Publishers Association and two by the Committee’s Chairs.
- The media members select one of their number as Chair of their side and Vice-Chair of the Committee. He/she leads for their side at Committee meetings and provides a point of day-to-day contact for them and for the Secretary.
- The DSMA Committee is served by a Secretary who acts as the Committee’s executive office and two part-time Deputy Secretaries. The Secretary is responsible (on behalf of the Committee) for addressing any DSMA Notice policy issues which may need to be resolved. For two weeks in each four-week period, he also acts as the on-duty DSMA Notice adviser, offering DSMA Notice advice to the media on individual national security disclosure cases. Each of the deputies acts as the on-duty DSMA Notice adviser for one week in every four-week period. At all times there is a single point of contact and responsibility for offering DSMA Notice advice to the media. A part-time PA provides administrative support. Click here to see the full list of present committee members.
Responsibility of Membership
- The areas of national security that the DSMA Committee oversees are set out in the five standing DSMA-Notices. When it is judged necessary to amend or add to these standing DSMA-Notices, the appropriate Government department(s) forward a draft proposal to the media members. The Committee must agree any revised wording before it is promulgated. Official proposals may not be issued in DSMA-Notice form without the consent of the media members.
- The DSMA Committee meets in formal session in the Spring and Autumn of each year and whenever else required. It reviews the Secretary’s report of guidance sought and advice offered during the previous six months. It also reviews the content of the DSMA-notices as necessary to consider whether any amendments need to be made to meet the changing needs of national security. It also explores any concerns which may have emerged about the system. Click here to view details of future meetings or here to view records of past meetings.
- The DSMA-Notices aim to provide general guidance on those areas of national security which the Government considers it has a duty to protect: to national and provincial newspaper editors, to periodicals editors, to radio and television organisations and to relevant book and web publishers. The Notices have no legal standing. The advice that is offered within their framework may be accepted or rejected in whole or in part and they will not apply to information that is already widely available in the public domain.
- Should it be found necessary to issue additional DSMA-Notice advice on a specific matter, the Secretary after consultation with the Government department concerned will issue a letter with that specific advice. The letter will be distributed by email to all editors and through the Press Association and the Society of Editors’ networks. These letters will be caveated : Private and Confidential: Not for Publication, Broadcast or for use on Social Media. Click here to see the five standing DSMA-Notices.
Secretary DSMA Committee
- The Secretary is employed as a Civil Servant Band B1 on the budget of the Ministry of Defence. He is the servant of both the Government and the Media sides of the Committee, a fact which is recognised by the Vice Chair being involved in the process of his selection. Corresponding arrangements also apply to the two deputy secretaries.
- The Secretary (or Deputy Secretary) is available at all times to Government departments and the Media to give advice on the system, taking into account the general guidance given to him by the Committee. DSMA-notices are necessarily drafted in general terms. It is the application of a DSMA-notice to a particular set of circumstances on which the Secretary is expected to give guidance, consulting as necessary with appropriate departmental officials. He is not invested with the authority to give rulings nor to advise on considerations other than those of national security.
- If the Secretary agrees that a Government department may quote the DSMA-notices in a release of information to the media, he should ensure that the Department makes it clear that it is doing so on his authority and therefore that of the DSMA Committee. (Click here to find out about the role and contact details of the DSMA-Notice Secretary).
Find out more about the DSMA system