Sir Harold Evans backs Guardian's right to scrutinise power despite being underwhelmed by 'narcissistic' Edward Snowden

Former Times and Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans has dismissed attacks on The Guardian from other newspapers over its spying revelation as part of the "dog eat dog fun of Fleet Street".

Writing in the Observer, Evans said it was vital that newspapers maintained a close eye on the Government and agencies of the state.

“No editor in his right mind wants to give aid and comfort to murderous enemies, but every editor is duty-bound to scrutinise the use of power – responsibly but fearlessly – however personally unappealing a leaker may be. Conflict between the conceptions of duty is inevitable, indeed healthy.

“Reporting often exposes an ill that government has not recognised or been willing to acknowledge. The state is not ominiscient. Nor is it unknown for government to conceal its own mistakes. I have not been impressed by the blather about ‘freedom of the press’ surrounding the narcissistic Edward Snowden, but one point he made on 17 October bears examination: he had to do what he did, he argues, because the National Security Agency hierarchy required him to ‘report wrongdoing for those most responsible for it’. True or false?.”

Evans said the Washington Times was reckless when they printed that the US was able to monitor Osama Bin Laden’s mobile phone.

He said while editing the Sunday Times they ran several stories on national security issues that brought criticism on the newspaper.

“We took national security as seriously as anyone, but over 14 years the barriers erected against legitimate inquiry on grounds of national security – reporting, not document dumps – proved spurious or self-serving. Kim Philby betrayed his country and sent countless people to their deaths.

“However, when we exposed the full measure of his treacheries the outrage in government and sections of the press was directed not at Philby and those who protected him for years but at our reporters. The diaries of the scholarly cabinet minister Richard Crossman have been recognised as shedding valuable light on the way we are governed, but government made a full-scale attempt to censor their publication. Same yet again in the long ordeal of Northern Ireland. Cheerleading was exalted and real reporting excoriated.”

Meanwhile former Liberal Democrat cabinet minister Chris Huhne has said the Labour Party may have signed off on the controversial Tempora GCHQ spying system before the last general election.

Writing in the Observer, Huhne admitted the Cabinet was never briefed about the extent of GCHQ’s spying.

Huhne resigned from Cabinet after trying to cover up a speeding offence and was jailed along with his former wife after she accepted his penalty points.

He dismissed the investigation by the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee as a virtual whitewash, claiming the committee will give GCHQ “a clean bill of health”.

He said: “GCHQ has the capacity to scoop up and store the email and voice traffic of the entire population of this country, regardless of whether they are suspects or have ever committed any crime. GCHQ says it only looks at the suspect messages, but what are its checks? Given its inability to keep its own secrets, how credibly can it promise to keep ours?

“The invasion of privacy is breath-taking. The defence that you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide is as outrageous as it was when made by the totalitarian states. Citizens may – for good or bad reasons – want their activity to be private without in any way being illegal. Privacy matters.”

Huhne argued a judicial review is necessary to investigate the legality of the Tempora scheme.

“The Snowden revelations show an executive arm snatching exaggerated powers with no public debate or parliamentary approval. For the sake of our freedoms, but also our democracy, this needs to be put right.”

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