Tuesday 21 October 2014

Risible 'Guardian' is no friend of freedom

The sanctimonious paper and its editor are putting Western security at risk, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Published 25/08/2013 | 05:00

IT'S the sanctimony of The Guardian that sets my teeth on edge, and these days it's in top form. Its editor of 18 years, Alan Rusbridger, is being grave and statesmanlike over persecution by the organs of the state.

In the interests of civil liberties, The Guardian published leaked secrets that exposed state abuse of power. It has paid a terrible price. Rusbridger was subjected to a humiliating dawn raid; his family were traumatised as the police searched the house from top to bottom. Computers and private documents were seized and he was arrested and put on indefinite bail and fears prison for using information that had been illegally hacked.

Except that he wasn't.

That's what happened to more than 100 tabloid journalists, but they wrote for the little people and The Guardian doesn't care. Indeed, Rusbridger has been one of the few editors who back a form of statutory regulation that strikes fear into the hearts of most of us who care about press freedom.

What happened to Rusbridger, who had been publishing secret material about the British and American intelligence services stolen by Edward Snowden, was that he was visited in his office by the UK's top civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and requested in the interests of national security to consent to the destruction of certain hard disks containing sensitive information. The deed was done, and though Rusbridger explained that the information was copied elsewhere and the reporting would continue, he was not handcuffed and thrown into a black maria. But he was outraged nonetheless.

He was even more outraged by the treatment of David Miranda, who lives in his native Brazil with his partner, American lawyer and Guardian writer Glenn Greenwald, and who was stopped at Heathrow, interviewed by police for nine hours under anti-terrorism law and had his electronic devices confiscated. To some of us, the discovery that Miranda was carrying nicked information to Greenwald and that the Guardian had paid for his travel, suggested he wasn't just an innocent being persecuted because of his spouse's activities. But Rusbridger warned "the threat to journalism is real and growing".

I'm among those who struggle to decide when national security should trump press freedom. I know we should be ever-vigilant about the activities of security services and encourage transparency and accountability. I'm also concerned about levels of surveillance of ordinary citizens and I deplore heavy-handed policing. But perhaps because I live in London and am grateful that these days we seem mercifully free of republican or Islamist bombs, I feel strongly that hacks shouldn't make it impossible for our police and spies to keep us safe from our myriad enemies.

After an embarrassingly emotional reunion of spouses in Rio de Janeiro, which led me to shout 'Oh, man up, for God's sake' at the television, Greenwald announced: "I have many documents on England's spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did."

I worry about the kind of people involved in this kind of activity. It's much easier and safer to steal and disseminate information from free societies, yet the information they leak helps the bad guys. And having got into legal conflict with the free societies they're undermining, they find strange boltholes.

Take Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, who put the lives of American allies at risk. In the 2013 Freedom of the Press index (an annual survey of media independence in 197 countries), the US is number 32, but rather than face rape allegations in Sweden (10), Assange is seeking asylum in Ecuador (119).

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Edward Snowden's leaks are helpful to China (173) and he's now living in the thugocracy that is Putin's Russia (148), where journalists are beaten up and murdered. The UK's rating these days is a rather shameful 29 (Ireland's is 15), but Brazil, from which Greenwald operates, is 108.

All these people think they're victims, but they all seem arrogant and attention-seeking and it's hard to disagree with those who describe them as anti- Western saboteurs. Still, I have sympathy for Private Bradley Manning, who downloaded thousands of classified state documents, sent them to Assange, and carried the can. How the hell can the US Army have been stupid enough to have given a disturbed and confused 22-year-old access to sensitive material?

This unfortunate young man has reacted to a 35-year sentence first by apologising that "I hurt people. I'm sorry that I hurt the United States".

He also explained that he's now called Chelsea and is to have "the feminine pronoun" applied to him. Even the PC BBC hasn't fallen for the notion that you can change your gender overnight, but, yes, The Guardian has.

These days, it's as risible as it's dangerous.

www.ruthdudleyedwards.co.uk; RuthDE@twitter.com.

Sunday Independent

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