09/10/2013 15:34 BST | Updated 09/10/2013 17:07 BST

MI5 Chief Attacks The Guardian, National Newspapers Denounce Aiding Of 'Terror'

Two issues dominated Wednesday's news agenda - state regulation of the press, and the "dangerous" Guardian reporting of far-reaching surveillance, which "may have aided terrorism"

Exposing the "reach and limits" of listening post GCHQ causes enormous damage and hands the advantage to terrorists, the head of MI5 Andrew Parker warned in his first public speech.

It was a wide-ranging speech, which never mentioned the paper by name, but clearly referred to the reporting of the leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Mail's piece says government sources are "scornful of the idea that The Guardian and Snowden – who is now holed up in Russia, after a whistle-stop visit to the Chinese territory of Hong Kong – needed to start a debate on state surveillance."

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, the Guardian roundly disputed that analysis, calling the debate over surveillance "necessary and overdue".

The irony of the shock-and-outrage from certain quarters of the press over media regulation - on the same morning as three national newspapers, the Times, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, attacked the Guardian for its investigative reporting and took the MI5 line on the risk to security, was not lost on many prominent investigative journalists, or on many tweeting the story this morning.

Duncan Campbell, the veteran investigative journalist who was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for revealing the existence of GCHQ in 1976, said he shared concerns.

"The onslaught of three major newspapers against the Guardian this morning is a high watermark for yellow journalism in Britain. Not new in the last 50 years, but possible the worse, in terms of its uninformed-ness, its slavish adherence to a spin doctor's agenda, and avoiding obvious questions," he told HuffPost UK.

Campbell, who recently exposed in the Independent the existence of a secret surveillance base in the Middle East, said that much of the papers' willingness to cover the Parker speech so extensively was jealousy.

"Journalists have mixed motives. Edward Snowden's paper are exclusive, nobody else has got them. So nobody else can follow the story, so the journalists are open to attacks on it.


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"The MI5 director has been the launch pad for this attack on freedom of expression. He doesn't even name the Guardian. The papers did that. This is a hysterical, disgraceful attempt to exploit newspaper rivalry and blind stupidity to shut down legitimate enquiry."

Gavin Macfadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, agreed newspaper competition was key.

"Papers are jealous, they hate it when they don't have a story. The Guardian does it too, they hated it when other papers picked up WikiLeaks stories. They wanted the story, and they were pissed off and denounced everybody," he told HuffPost UK.

"The messenger is always the story, not the message. And this is not about what the Guardian released, but about the fact the Guardian released it. It's shocking, but not actually surprising what has happened today."

"The British press do have a history of this," said Heather Brooke, an investigative journalist whose work was the catalyst for the expenses scandal of 2009.

"But it is really upsetting reading those papers this morning. It looks like a Pravda-style government campaign dictated straight into the pages of national newspapers."

the guardian

The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger has been personally criticised for the investigation

In the US, a similar debate has raged, with even the Washington Post, the paper who Snowden first contacted with his leaks, writing an editorial suggesting “the first US priority should be to prevent Snowden from leaking information”

"Edward Snowden has said, 'I've committed a serious crime,' the newspaper has put this out there," noted Piers Morgan.

"Surely he [Greenwald] should be prepared to answer questions about whether anything they have done – in cahoots with this guy, we don't know how far he goes – anything they've done borders on criminality. I think it's a perfectly reasonable question."

Salon's David Sirota wrote that he was deeply concerned about the "journalists against journalism club".

"The Post’s higher-ups are apparently so ideologically committed to subservience and to the national security state that they felt the need to take the extraordinary step of publicly reprimanding their own source and their own newsroom for the alleged crime of committing journalism.

"At one level, this is all downright hilarious," he wrote. "But at another level, it isn’t because it potentially intensifies a larger chilling effect on investigative journalism that is happening throughout the media.

But Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaigners Big Brother Watch, pointed out that at least the US administration has said it will take steps to address the public outcry over surveillance.

Pickles called the comments from Parker "in stark contrast to the US government's efforts to maintain public confidence by bringing further transparency and oversight to the reach of the NSA.

"People will rightly question why, if the US congress can publicly debate the reach of their agencies, the British public should be denied any details of what is happening here."

"You have absolutely no right to know anything at all about the security services in this country, they aren't covered by Freedom of Information law, so they are in control of the message," Brooke told HuffPost UK.

"They have their favourite journalists, who they take to lunch and give tip-offs to, and in return, the papers will help them if they need to push out a certain line."

In a statement a Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: "A huge number of people - from President Obama to the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper - have now conceded that the Snowden revelations have prompted a debate which was both necessary and overdue.

"The President has even set up a review panel and there have been vigorous discussions in the US Congress and throughout Europe. Such a debate is only worthwhile if it is informed. That is what journalism should do."