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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tories alienate U.S. media
with Guardian witch hunt

Conservatives in Parliament are jeopardizing the special relationship between Britain and the United States as U.S. media warn against involving the Guardian in a witch hunt aimed at stifling press freedom in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and leading U.S. news organizations are urging parliamentarians to uphold Britain’s commitment to freedom of the press amid intense interest in a hearing at which the Guardian's editor testified. The editor, Alan Rusbridger, defended Guardian stories based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden as responsible and argued that intelligence agency oversight had been so weak that it was newspapers that had galvanized public officials into calling for review and reform of the massive snooping.

The Tories, however, are uninterested in doing much to effect change in the intelligence-surveillance system.

Carl Bernstein, one of the reporters to expose the Watergate scandal, said that David Cameron's government seemed more interested in shifting the focus away from questionable activities of government and onto the alleged wrongdoing of the press.

Prior to the hearing, the Reporters Committee said: “As news organizations, editors, and journalists who often report on government actions that officials seek to keep secret, we write to the Committee on the eve of the forthcoming appearance of Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to express our grave concern over pointed calls by those in authority for censorship of the Guardian and criminal prosecution of its journalists in the name of national security. Such sanctions, and the chilling impact created by even the threat to impose them, undermine the independence and integrity of the press that are essential for democracy to function.”

Co-signing the letter with the Reporters Committee are the American Society of News Editors; The Associated Press; The E.W. Scripps Company; The McClatchy Company; The New York Times Company; The New Yorker; Newspaper Association of America; ProPublica; The Seattle Times Company; Society of Professional Journalists; The Washington Post; and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

The disclosures published in the Guardian “may have embarrassed or angered political leaders, but they have educated the public on critically important matters and sparked a valuable global debate over the proper exercise of the vast surveillance powers that now exist,” the media letter continued. “It is the responsibility of journalists to provide the type of accurate and in-depth news reports published by the Guardian and others that have informed the public and framed important, unresolved issues concerning the balance between security and privacy. Vigorous news coverage and the debate it fosters advance the public interest.”

Further, the letter noted it is “unwise and counterproductive” to invoke security concerns or charge that a news organization has aided terrorists “simply by providing citizens with information they need to know,” particularly when editors have demonstrated care and sensitivity to the security concerns raised by government officials. “The reporting has been both responsible and, given the intense displeasure of those in power, courageous.”

British politicians have called for criminal prosecution of the Guardian, an investigation by Scotland Yard has been launched, and the newspaper has been threatened with “D notices” prohibiting publication of national security information.

“To the rest of the world, it appears that press freedom itself is under attack in Britain today,” the letter stated. “These aggressive actions intimidate journalists and their sources. They chill reporting on issues of national security and on the conduct of government more generally” and encourage repressive regimes around the world to undermine an independent press.

“We therefore urge the Committee to use the occasion of Mr. Rusbridger’s appearance to reaffirm Britain’s commitment to a vigorous, free, and independent press,” the letter concluded. “It is important to acknowledge that the Snowden revelations, filtered to the public through responsible journalists, have served the public interest. And it is equally important to respect the autonomy of the newsroom. Damage to democracy and to the credibility of elected governments inevitably is inflicted when disapproval of truthful reporting causes officials to intrude into the internal editorial decisions of news organizations.”

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