Dilemma of uncovering government secrets, post-9/11 press freedom environment analysed in WAN's World Press Freedom Day material
World Press Freedom Day, 3 May: To Publish or Not? The Dilemma of Uncovering Government Secrets
The decision to publish government secrets is never an easy one, but has become even more difficult since the September 11 attacks, says Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, in an exclusive interview with the World Association of Newspapers that is being offered to newspapers world-wide for publication on World Press Freedom Day, 3 May.
"Since 9/11, the choices have been complicated by the fact that the enemy is a murkier entity, the battle lines are not clear cut, and much of the war takes place behind a shroud of secrecy - on all sides," he says. "Moreover, we are more often confronted by decisions that seem to pit national security against civil liberties. And in a world of highly classified information, it can be difficult to appraise both sides of the equation - the threat to national security, and the threat to civil liberties."
The interview with Mr Keller is included in a package of articles, essays, infographics, public service advertisements and other materials that newspapers are encouraged to publish to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, 3 May. The "Press Under Surveillance" package focuses on how security measures can be abused to stifle debate, individual liberties and freedom of the press.
The materials can be found at http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org
When the New York Times published an article in June 2006 on the US government's monitoring of international banking transactions, it triggered a major controversy, accusations of 'treason' against the newspaper and the introduction of a bill that would criminalise the unauthorised disclosure of classified information. The Times had already infuriated the Bush administration by running a story in December 2005 on the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States.
In both cases, the Bush administration had called on the Times not to publish the articles, invoking national security.
Mr Keller, who offers a reasoned defence of publishing such information, says the Bush Administration is "more secretive, and more generally hostile to the press, than any since the Nixon administration."
"This Administration's preoccupation with secrecy, with controlling the message, has been a double-edged sword," he says. "It has contributed to a general decline in public credibility. It has made it hard to get a national and international consensus on measures that are necessary to combat the genuine threat of terrorism. And it has, paradoxically, undermined the Administration's ability to keep secrets."
Other contributors to the World Press Freedom Day package include Dinah PoKempner, General Counsel of Human Rights Watch, Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19, David Banisar of Privacy International, Andrei Richter, Director of the Moscow Media Law and Policy Institute, Chinese Journalist Gao Yu, Seamus Dooley of the London-based National Union of Journalists, and Raymond Louw of the South African National Editors Forum.
The package of materials examines anti-terrorism and official secrets laws, criminalisation of speech judged to justify terrorism, criminal prosecution of journalists for disclosing classified information, surveillance of communications without judicial authorisation, and restrictions on access to government data.
In addition, the package, which is available in English, French, Spanish, German and Russian, includes:
- Compelling public service advertisements, produced by major advertising agencies world-wide, on the theme, "press under surveillance."
- Materials for engaging younger readers, with information about Chinese journalist Shi Tao, the WAN Golden Pen of Freedom laureate who has been jailed since November 2004 for distributing information about Chinese press restrictions. The materials include a postcard to be sent to Chinese authorities protesting against the jailing.
- Infographics on the number of journalists killed and jailed, and editorial cartoons on press freedom themes.
- A video spot for broadcast or for web sites will be available from 20 April.
Full materials at http://www.worldpressfreedomday.org
The Paris-based WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 76 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 10 regional and world-wide press groups.