In our name

In the United Kingdom, the prime minister this week fired a warning shot across the bow of The Guardian, whose coverage of information disclosed by Edward Snowden has embarrassed the U.S. government and allegedly undermined a global war on terrorism. "Prior restraint" is allowed under U.K. law, and according to Reuters prime minister Cameron may well invoke it:

"If they (newspapers) don't demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act," Cameron told parliament, saying Britain's Guardian newspaper had "gone on" to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.

The timing of Cameron's remarks is interesting, coming just after the German chancellor learned that her cell phone may have been targeted by the NSA for unauthorized surveillance. For his part, President Obama told chancellor Merkele that he wasn't aware of what the NSA was up to. I guess you have to read The Guardian for that.

No one takes terrorism lightly, but the U.S. and U.K. governments have yet to provide any meaningful data on harm done by the Snowden leaks. In fact, the New York Times last month reported that the government's own leaks – the ones that are often deliberately channeled through "senior administration officials" and others – have had a more immediate negative effect on counter-terrorism efforts.

The Times coverage drew a fair number of complaints, but not for one of its core arguments: "Snowden has not given away the store in terms of harming national security or counterterrorism efforts." That honor falls to people within the government working to explain why the United States decided to close several embassies without any notice.

While the U.K. government tries to figure out what it will do with its noisier publications, the President and Congress may wish for a world in which the fourth estate is somewhat more pliable. That might be good for those in power, but it would be a shame for the governed, all of whom deserve an explanation of what is done in our name.

 

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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