OSCE Paying Close Attention to Balance of Media Freedom and State Security in UK

May 28, 2014

A delicate balance must be achieved between freedom of the media and state and private security according to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović.

Mijatović was speaking at a conference on media freedom in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks entitled Journalists and Whistleblowers in an Era of Mass Surveillance.

The May 16 conference was hosted by SPP’s Center for Media and Communication Studies at CEU. The disclosures of mass surveillance by the NSA and other security agencies by the whistleblower Edward Snowden have been met with a sense of outrage, particularly outside the United States, principally on the grounds of the human right to privacy. Yet the nature and degree of the mass surveillance that has been exposed as well as states’ responses to the publication of the revelations by The Guardian and other newspapers have also impacted upon freedom of expression, particularly that of journalists, as well as of the public at large.

Mijatović spoke in particular about the behavior of the UK government in reaction to The Guardian’s involvement in publishing some of the content of the Snowden leaks and noted that her office was paying particular attention to the UK right now while noting that “The Guardian is one of the pioneers in reporting on matters of privacy and media freedom.”

Gill Phillips, Director of Editorial Legal Services for Guardian News & Media Limited, was also in attendance to explain how The Guardian’s legal position in the UK when it came to publishing reports on the leaks was much less sure than it had been in the United States. “Things were really quite different [in the UK]. We don’t have a history of mature dialogue with the agencies [GCHQ], we have a history of much greater prior restraint around confidentiality…” In addition to these factors, Philips explained that the UK government has had a history of vigorously pursuing the media in several high-profile cases of intelligence leaks. This led to The Guardian avoiding any prior contact with government agencies in advance of publishing the first of the GCHQ related leaks, and subsequently to the government’s threat to shut down the paper’s coverage of the story.

You can watch a video of the conference in full, which consisted of two panel discussions (States, Surveillance and Disclosure, and Journalists, Whistleblowers and Public Interest) below, and find biographies of each of the speakers here.

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