Public lynching of
an ominous sign
Edward Snowden provided much of the material to The Guardian, for which it was attacked Tuesday in the British Parliament.
THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT struck a blow against press freedom everywhere on Tuesday with its public inquisition of the editor of The Guardian newspaper.
Alan Rusbridger was hauled before parliament because his paper has fearlessly published information of vital public interest that embarrassed the government of David Cameron.
If this could happen in the cradle of western democracy, with the entire world watching, embarrassed politicians everywhere will feel they can do the same thing with impunity.
It’s a horrendous example, though the courage on display in The Guardian’s response is one that might serve as a lesson to the public about the value of exposing government wrongdoing through investigative reporting.
AT ISSUE WAS The Guardian’s aggressive exposure of massive government spying on both sides of the Atlantic revealed in documents provided by Edward Snowden.
The newspaper has led international coverage of the secrets and continues to do so. The reporting has resulted in responses from President Obama, other national leaders and even the United Nations.
The editor’s public flogging was reported in his own publication in the story Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs.
The story in The Guardian about its editor’s appearance before parliament. Click image to enlarge.
Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor wrote:
“Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee about stories based on the National Security Agency leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden, Alan Rusbridger said the Guardian “would not be put off by intimidation, but nor are we going to behave recklessly.”
The comment came during the editor’s appearance before the Home Affairs Select committee, in which Rusbridger also said the Guardian had consulted government officials and intelligence agencies on more than 100 occasions before the publication of stories.
“Rusbridger said the Guardian had been put under the kind of pressure to stop publishing stories that would have been inconceivable in other countries,” the Guardian reported.
Perhaps the British government did go further than the American government, so far, but only because of protections provided by the First Amendment and several Supreme Court decisions.
Rusbridger told the committee: “They include prior restraint, they include a senior Whitehall official coming to see me to say: ‘There has been enough debate now’. They include asking for the destruction of our disks. They include MPs calling for the police to prosecute the editor. So there are things that are inconceivable in the US.
“I feel that some of this activity has been designed to intimidate the Guardian,” he said.
Indeed, there can be no doubt about it. All of the government’s intrusions, including the pounding given to Rusbridger on Tuesday, amount to a massive attempt at intimidation.
The hearing was reported in The New York Times on Wednesday in the story Editor Describes Pressure After Leaks by Snowden which also focused on the intimidation angle.
The New York Times reported Wednesday about the grilling of The Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger.
“The top editor of the British newspaper The Guardian told Parliament on Tuesday that since it obtained documents on government surveillance from a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, it has met with government agencies in Britain and the United States more than 100 times and has been subjected to measures “designed to intimidate,” wrote Ravi Somaiya.
Summarizing the measures already taken by the British government, The Times reported that “Mr. Rusbridger said Tuesday that the governments’ measures “include prior restraint,” as well as visits by officials to his office, the enforced destruction of Guardian computer disks with power tools and repeated calls from lawmakers “asking police to prosecute” The Guardian for disclosing the classified material in news articles.”
According to The Times, Rusbridger “faced aggressive questioning from lawmakers, particularly those of the ruling Conservative Party. Some asserted that The Guardian had handled the material irresponsibly, putting it at risk of interception by hostile governments and others. Others said the paper had jeopardized national security.”
These assertions are not grounded in fact. The Snowden documents and the secrets they have revealed are of vital public importance. The Guardian’s reporting has stimulated a long-overdue public debate about the national security state and personal privacy.
This was evident in an article published Monday in The Guardian itself, headlined It’s outrageous to accuse the Guardian of aiding terrorism by publishing Snowden’s revelations
“I have studied all the published stories” about the spying scandal, wrote Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, and a British judge on international criminal tribunals.
“These issues are at the apex of public interest concerns. The astonishing suggestion that this sort of journalism can be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively,” he added.
“It is the role of a free press to hold governments to account, and yet there have even been outrageous suggestions from some Conservative MPs that the Guardian should face a criminal investigation.”
Indeed, it is the most crucial role of a free press in a democracy to act as a watchdog on government. That is why, in the U.S. at least, it is granted special protection under the Constitution.
The reporting by The Guardian, The New York Times and others on the Snowden documents has revealed serious lapses in government oversight, particularly in the U.S. Without the investigative reporting, even the Senate Intelligence Committee would remain uninformed; one of the most serious allegations is the NSA did everything it could to conceal its dubious schemes from Congress.
It is deeply troubling that British politicians would mount such a ferocious attack on press freedom. Journalists everywhere should stand with The Guardian in resisting this blatant intimidation.
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