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Controversial non fiction

edited April 2017 in Writing
For the past five years I have been researching in public and military archives with a view to publishing about a highly controversial period of military history. Although I have personal experience, I believe I have avoided infringement of the OSA by finding everything I need within material available in the public domain. Has anyone had experience of similar work or insight into potential difficulties?


  • Official Secrets Act.
  • I would have thought that would be ok as long as you have checked the sources for the 'public domain' information. But no, no experience whatsoever.
  • Are you sure the material in the public domain is accurate? Can you find corroborating information from a reliable primary source?

    I've not tackled this type of writing myself, but these questions are the most obvious things to me.
  • Most of the material is declassified, Secret and Top Secret, from the Ministry of Defence. In many cases the issue of accuracy can be challenged with other material, also from the Ministry of Defence archives - for example, statistics, operational accounts, citations for awards and some external sources. Operational accounts should also be challenged because they are based on an essentially closed system. Here primary sources, media and witness statements are useful. In other instances the question of accuracy is secondary to that of interpretation and here bias in sources is addressed. In all I am comfortable with the essentials of accuracy and consider various interpretations in light of other evidence. The main issues I guess are that the evidence indicates substantial variation from what might be regarded as established viewpoints. In that sense, I believe that my work is intrinsically free from bias.
  • The libel laws might come into play here, even if it affects members of a deceased's family.
  • That's true.
  • Only if it's defamatory and untrue.
  • But if it came to court you'd need a hell of a lot of money to be able to prove it.

    If it goes to a publisher then anything that could leave them open to court action would hopefully come out.

    And don't forget most publishing contracts have an indemnity clause...
  • Yes, that is true.
  • Yes indeed, much considered, but to the extent applicable the material would be based on official records and supposition based on widely published secondary sources for generalizations.

    Good points though and I will make sure I have a good discussion with any potential publisher. The purpose however, is to point to systemic, doctrinal, policy and tactical deficiencies. While these are indeed attributable to senior figures and collectively responsible bodies, the issues, I believe, are less concerned with individuals and more with establishment agencies. Probably a text book in here somewhere about some of the pitfalls. Thanks for the responses.
  • When you find a publisher, presumably they would run it past thrir legal department anyway?
  • I would think so, in itself that will be an interesting exercise.
  • Good luck with it.
  • Thank you very much. Another side to the thing is that its somewhat like a real-life who-done-it. Very addictive. Thanks again.
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