This week, a row has erupted between the Daily Mail and The Guardian over whether the latter should have published leaked documents obtained from America’s National Security Agency by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. The new head of MI5, Andrew Parker, said in a speech that the leaks imperilled British security.
There is much that we do not know about this story, such as what information The Guardian redacted, what advice it received from the Government, and what terrorists might do with the information that was put into the public domain. But our readers should know that The Independent has also contributed to the debate.
In August, we too were given information from the Snowden files. It pertained to the operation of the security services, was highly detailed, and had the capacity to compromise Britain’s security. The result was a front-page story: “UK’s secret Mid-East internet-surveillance base.”
The story pointed out that we declined to publish much of the most sensational information – an editorial decision that was informed by the Defence Advisory Notice system, a voluntary code which is run by the Government. We did this in the interest of national security.
“My first concern,” wrote George Orwell, “is to get a hearing.” All journalists want to be heard, of course. But the best journalists must know when to shut up, too.