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Tuesday 27 August 2013

Journalism Is NOT Terrorism

[Update at end of post]

It should concern us that much of the advice about press freedom, in the days following the detention of David Miranda while in transit at Heathrow Airport, has come from the USA, Germany, and the Nordic countries. That tells you much about the UK’s general acceptance of spooks, and the premise of “National Security, something that is not so readily accepted elsewhere.
That it took a US-born pundit, Janet Daley – on many matters someone of conservative thought – to have to say, in response to the Richard Littlejohns of this world who whine “the Guardian didn’t stick up for my mates when they got nicked”, that “It’s Left-wing prats who are defending our freedoms”, signifies how we accept the intrusion of the state security apparatus, often without question.

It was Germany’s top human rights official who voiced “grave concern” about the detention. It was the EU Justice Commissioner who confirmed that she also had concerns about the matter. And it was newspapers from the Nordic countries that signed a letter to Young Dave, telling that “events in Great Britain over the past week give rise to deep concern”. The New York Times has summed it all up.

If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected ... Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?

The title of that article, “War on Leaks Is Pitting Journalist vs. Journalist”, sums it up. But it remains a fact that journalism is not terrorism. MSNBC’s top host Rachel Maddow sums it up in the video above (she also gives invaluable background into the past harassment of documentary maker Laura Poitras).

And, as Barry Eisler has pointed out, “The National Surveillance State doesn't want anyone to be able to communicate without the authorities being able to monitor that communication”. This is the only connection between terrorism and what Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – and other journalists – are doing: that the state uses the same means to interrupt their work.

Except, of course, that journalists do not bring violence and destruction, but merely seek to shine a light on those areas that some would rather keep dark. The security services may have helped us beat the Nazis. But now we are not fighting the Nazis: the overreach of the state surveillance apparatus means that the press and its journalists are struggling to maintain their very freedom.

That is why it’s not just about the Guardian. It’s about all of us.

[UPDATE 28 August 1430 hours: the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which represents around 18,000 news publications worldwide, has now written to Young Dave, calling the Government's behaviour towards the Guardian - which involved legal threats and the destruction of two computers - "deeply regrettable", and showing concern over press freedom.

The organisation, moreover, called the detention of David Miranda under Schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act "outrageous and deeply disturbing". For some reason, many UK publications are not reporting this news, and it has fallen to sources like the HuffPost to let us know.

Clearly, those representatives of all those thousands of publications understand that, as I pointed out above, it is not just about the Guardian. Exactly how Government cheerleaders in the UK press and elsewhere explain that one away will be a joy to behold]

1 comment:

Chris Neville-Smith said...

I'm trying to avoid passing judgement on this one. At the moment, we don't have first-hand information on what the Police thought was on the laptop. If it was material that would put lives in danger, or there was reasonable grounds to believe that, then the Police would have been correct to act the way they did, whether or not the person concerned was a journalist. And you can't always disclose the reasons straight away - if there's terrorism or any other sort of organised crime involved, you don't want to give a running commentary on who you've arrested and why.

However, I think the more important issue that needs addressing is oversight. Yes, the Police must have the powers to arrest someone if there are reasonable grounds to believe it will prevent a serious crime, but who decides what is reasonable grounds? It seems that is solely the discretion of the Police, with little or no effective scrutiny. A similar problem exists with surveillance. And we know that powers of this nature have been abused in the past, with one of the most blatant examples being local authorities using anti-terrorism measures for petty reasons.

Until this issue is addressed, there's bound to be very valid questions over what these powers are being used for..