Interbrew's court bid to seize Guardian's assets

The Guardian: has been singled out by brewer

The Guardian faces having its assets seized in the High Court on Tuesday in a targeted move by international brewer Interbrew to make the paper give up leaked documents.

The idea of accountants moving in to run a national newspaper has incensed editor Alan Rusbridger, MPs and the NUJ.

Rusbridger said: "We are facing an event unprecedented in British newspaper history. The sequestration of The Guardian’s assets raises fundamental issues about the operation of a free press in this country which will send shockwaves through the world’s press."

MPs have tabled an early-day motion on protection of sources and NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear described the idea of the sequestration as "one of the biggest threats to press freedom for decades".

Guardian journalists met on Wednesday to discuss the threat.

While Interbrew has obtained a court order for the documents to be handed over by the Financial Times, The Times, The Independent and Reuters news agency, as well as The Guardian, it has infuriated all five by singling out The Guardian.

The brewer has said it was doing so because the paper says the documents are not in its possession but are held by the journalist who received them and The Guardian will not compel him to hand them over.

The papers and Reuters are in discussion with the Financial Services Agency and Interbrew has agreed to a short delay in the hope that they and FSA can come to some agreement on the handover.

Rusbridger said: "We are not aware of any significant difference between our position and that of the other media organisations involved.

"Like them, we indicated that we welcomed any attempt to resolve this matter, and we not unreasonably requested an extension to Interbrew’s deadline to allow time for a full discussion with the FSA. That extension has been granted to the other media organisations but not to us."

Rusbridger has received emphatic support from the other editors in the case, who, like him, are planning to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. FT editor Andrew Gowers has confirmed he too is not prepared to ask his paper’s journalist in possession of the document to "act against his journalistic conscience".

By Jean Morgan

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