Both America and Germany are more committed to freedom of the press than Britain, Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, has suggested in a Q and A session with the Washington Post.
With Rusbridger due to appear in London today before MPs of the Home Affairs Select Committee, The Post at the weekend published a transcript of questions and answers with him about British government “pressure on the newspaper.”
The Post report spoke of months in which government officials and lawmakers in Britain had “targeted the Guardian for its Snowden revelations.”
Rusbridger was asked how concerned he was about these efforts against the paper, and what the implications were for press freedom in Britain.
He listed a number of disturbing events : the threat of prior restraint; the state telling a newspaper that there’s been “enough” debate; the forced destruction of journalistic material; the use of terror laws to detain someone who was plainly not a terrorist; MPs calling for the prosecution of an editor and accusing a paper of treason; and the prime minister backing calls for an editor to be called before Parliament.
“All this has happened against a background of new press regulation in which Prime Minister David Cameron is claiming the press has nothing to worry about from increased regulation involving his royal charter,” said Rusbbridger.
“Some of this is clearly designed to be intimidatory and/or chilling. Most of it would be unimaginable in America or parts of Europe. So, yes, I think there are disturbing implications for press freedom in the U.K.”
Rusbridger’s remarks came in a question and answer session with a Washington Post journalist conducted by e-mail.
Media companies in the United States and Germany were also reporting the Snowden leaks, said the journalist. He asked Rusbridger why he believed the Guardian was being treated differently in Britain .
Rusbridger said the American constitution fiercely protects the press. The 40-year-old Pentagon Papers judgment “means no U.S. government could succeed in prior restraint on an issue of this kind,”he said
Turning to Germany, he said Germans, for obvious reasons, were “much more sensitive to the malevolent potential of intrusive forms of state power.”
Rusbridger described Britain as “stranded without a US-style First Amendment … and with some complacency about the nature of the surveillance powers that have been created without any kind of proper public debate.”
He said it wasn’t for politicians or civil servants to determine the limits of public discussion. The state had a duty to protect free speech as well as security, he told the Post.