By Aaron Kesel
In another blow against free press, following a leak revealing comments by the British Ambassador to the USA calling Trump “inept, insecure and incompetent” (leading to the ambassador’s resignation and a spat of Twitter insults between Trump and senior Tory officials), London’s Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu has publicly warned journalists not to publish any government leaks, threatening them with imprisonment.
The publication of leaked communications, knowing the damage they have caused or are likely to cause may also be a criminal matter. I would advise all owners, editors and publishers of social and mainstream media not to publish leaked government documents that may already be in their possession, or which may be offered to them, and to turn them over to the police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty’s Government.
I would advise all owners, editors, and publishers of social and mainstream media not to publish leaked government documents that may already be in their possession, or which may be offered to them, and to turn them over to the police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty’s Government.
An investigation was launched by the Met Police Counter Terrorism Command, which takes national responsibility for investigating allegations of criminal breaches of the Official Secrets Act.
Backlash quickly ensued from various journalists and editors in the UK.
The Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman called it a “sinister, absurd, anti-democratic statement” and tweeted, “Do you have any comprehension of a free society? This isn’t Russia.” The U.S. managing editor of the Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, called the remarks “rather chilling from a major police force in a western democracy.”
Evening Standard editor George Osborne described Basu’s statement as “stupid” and “ill-advised.” Osborne, the former chancellor, tweeted that to maintain credibility the Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, should distance herself from “this very stupid and ill-advised statement from a junior officer who doesn’t appear to understand much about press freedom.”
This follows the arrest and imprisonment of WikiLeaks journalist, founder, and former editor Julian Assange, who has now been locked up in Britain’s Guantanamo Bay aka Belmarsh prison sentenced to 50 weeks for “skipping bail” of a defunct warrant. Julian Assange faces 175 years in prison if convicted on 18 counts in a U.S. indictment, 17 of which are under the Espionage Act. Assange is pending an extradition hearing, on February 2020 of next year where his future and the fate of Freedom Of the Press will be decided, as Activist Post reported.
It only took 24 hrs for the Met assistant commissioner Neil Basu to walk back his comments stating the Met “respects the rights of the media and has no intention of seeking to prevent editors from publishing stories in the public interest in a liberal democracy. The media hold an important role in scrutinizing the actions of the state.”
“We are, however, a body charged with enforcing the law, and we have received legal advice that has caused us to start a criminal inquiry into the leak of these specific documents as a potential breach of the Official Secrets Act (OSA). The focus of the investigation is clearly on identifying who was responsible for the leak,” Basu added.
“However, we have also been told the publication of these specific documents, now knowing they may be a breach of the OSA, could also constitute a criminal offence and one that carries no public interest defence.
“We know these documents and potentially others remain in circulation. We have a duty to prevent as well as detect crime and the previous statement was intended to alert to the risk of breaching the OSA.”
This latest gaff by the Metropolitan Police highlights the danger of going after journalists for publishing leaked material even if its as insignificant as communications between leaders.
A journalist’s job is not to bow to the State; the duty of a reporter is to cover what the government doesn’t want to be known and work in the public’s interest not those in power. These types of threats against the press silence dissent within journalism and seek to drive fear into the hearts and minds of those covering government corruption or the national security state, i.e. stifling investigative reporting. Which, in turn, hampers a journalist’s ability to hold government accountable for their actions.
Although in this case it was just leaked communications of the British Ambassador to the USAThe only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Ironically, and hypocritically, the UK government just held a Freedom Of The Press event banning RT and Sputnik from attending. Perhaps even more bizarre, one of journalist Julian Assange’s lawyers, Amal Clooney, headlined the event despite her client’s imprisonment for journalism. RT further reported that the UK also defended the right to spy on journalists the same day.
Russia isn’t any better and just threatened a journalist in their home country for referencing 1984, accusing Mikhail Romanov, a reporter for the Yakutsk Vecherniy weekly, of ‘controlling minds’ and therefore ‘affecting the human subconscious,’ Dailymail reported.
If the press can’t report on wrongdoing, then who watches the watchers? Who will hold government accountable and to a standard of transparency? Whether it’s in the U.S., UK, Russia or Australia, press freedoms are dying worldwide and all we are doing is sitting back as the elites in power take away our rights and demand a Ministry Of Truth. Ultimately, this will harm a democratic and free society. To see how bad this problem is getting and how underestimated it is, see Reporters Without Boarders which keeps a detailed documented list of countries oppressing journalists.
Image credit: Anthony Freda Art – war on whistleblowers
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