The Right Honourable David Cameron MP
Prime Minister of Great Britain
10 Downing Street
23 August 2013
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our deep concern at the actions of government officials that led to the destruction of computer hard drives at the offices of the Guardian newspaper on 20 July.
According to reports, the decision to destroy the equipment was made by Guardian staff in response to the threat of legal action by the UK government. In attempting to exercise prior-restraint, the government’s aim was to prevent the publication of reports based on the leaked files supplied by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.
That your government felt the need to threaten legal action in order to block reporting into issues of public interest is deeply regrettable. Furthermore, WAN-IFRA is extremely concerned that the government’s actions were an act of intimidation that could have a chilling effect on press freedom in the UK and beyond.
WAN-IFRA fully supports the actions of Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who explained on numerous occasions that copies of the information stored on the hard drives were held elsewhere under foreign jurisdictions, and that physically handing them over to UK government authorities or destroying them would be a symbolic gesture only.
In a separate but not unrelated incident, WAN-IFRA is equally concerned over the manner of the detention at Heathrow airport under Schedule 7 of the UK Terrorism Act 2000 of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who has been instrumental in breaking the story on the NSA files. Mr Miranda had his personal electronic items confiscated and was held for an unprecedented nine-hours without charges being brought against him.
The apparent misuse of this particular element of anti-terror legislation places journalists, and those aiding journalistic work, under suspicion of being terrorists or having involvement in terrorist activities. This is an outrageous and deeply disturbing connection to make, and we seek assurances from you and your government that the necessary inquiries will be made to ensure any inference of association between journalism and terrorism is not part of official policy and is publicly condemned as categorically misleading.
Added to these latest incidents, WAN-IFRA is disturbed by the perceived slide in press freedom witnessed in the UK over recent months. Serious questions remain regarding the future direction of independent press regulation. Reports also suggest that since Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into press behaviour as many as 59 journalists have been arrested under three separate police investigations. None have been convicted and many have spent months on police bail.
As a result, the United Kingdom’s commitment to international standards of freedom of expression, as outlined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Great Britain is a signatory, is under intense scrutiny both domestically and around the world.
We respectfully call on you to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to a free and independent press and to realign the various government and police authorities behind this unequivocal message. We urge the UK government to respect the rights of journalists to protect their sources and to create the conditions necessary to ensure the press can continue its crucial role in maintaining free and fair societies, without government interference or intimidation.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.