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National security versus press freedom

Edward Snowden is a computer scientist. In 2013 he delivered the biggest ever leak of security information in the United States, sharing 58,000 encrypted documents with the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

Paul Robinson spoke to Paul Johnson from the Guardian and Adrian Feuerbacher, from NDR in Germany.

The Prime Minister “has a problem with you”. This is what the Guardian was told in the summer of 2013. “You should not publish a word because national security trumps everything else”.


The Snowden case has been the most sensitive story ever covered by the Guardian. Computers were smashed, hard drives were crushed and threats were made. The newspaper was even told at one point that they could be closed down – “legally” – if they published the papers.


Even under such incredible political pressure, the Guardian’s reaction was to publish 1% of the materials leaked by Snowden. “What newspaper in our situation would not publish? We had to publish”, said Johnson.


And in the UK the newspaper is still under investigation by the authorities. T he story was different in America however. Obama said that debate and investigation into the information leaked was required. This helped raise the profile of the Guardian, especially in America. So even though the project was expensive, it was worth the investment.


Adrian Feuerbacher reflected on the role of radio in this case. “The secret war project” at NDR in Germany tried to get to grips with some of the issues that resonated with the Snowden story.


Broadcasters need to ensure that they maintain trust amongst listeners when distributing sensitive information. Create a common umbrella brand, which broadcasters everywhere can use, was one way of doing this for example.


Broadcasters also need to ensure that there is a compelling economic reason to fund investigative journalism. There is money available for projects which the public “should know about”, from the Pentagon.


Will this change the landscape of investigative journalism? Johnson was unsure what would happen to the rest of the leaked files, but he said that the fabric of journalism had changed for the good – Snowden has started a debate, we’ve only just begun.

Paul Johnson interviewed by Trevor Dann, Radiodays Europe: