Prime Minister David Cameron has been warned about “the perceived slide in press freedom witnessed in the UK over recent months” and has been called on to reaffirm the Government’s “commitment to a free and independent press”.
The warning from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) came in response to last week’s revelation that The Guardian, under supervision of UK security services, destroyed material relating to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The body, which claims to represent 18,000 publications in more than 120 countries, said it had “deep concern” at the supervised destruction of the NSA files, which it described as “an act of intimidation”.
The letter, signed by WAN-IFRA President Tomas Brunegard and World Editors Forum President Erik Bjerger, said: “That your government felt the need to threaten legal action in order to block reporting into issues of public interest is deeply regrettable. Furthermore, WAN-IFRA is extremely concerned that the government’s actions were an act of intimidation that could have a chilling effect on press freedom in the UK and beyond.”
In the letter, the group also sought assurances that the detention of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, under the Terrorism Act did not signal an attempt to use anti-terror laws to stifle journalism.
It continued: “The apparent misuse of this particular element of anti-terror legislation places journalists, and those aiding journalistic work, under suspicion of being terrorists or having involvement in terrorist activities. This is an outrageous and deeply disturbing connection to make, and we seek assurances from you and your government that the necessary inquiries will be made to ensure any inference of association between journalism and terrorism is not part of official policy and is publicly condemned as categorically misleading.”
The letter also said there were “serious questions” remaining over press regulation in the wake of the Leveson Report, citing the fact that 59 journalists had been arrested since 2011 in the UK with none having been convicted.
It concluded: “We respectfully call on you to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to a free and independent press and to realign the various government and police authorities behind this unequivocal message. We urge the UK government to respect the rights of journalists to protect their sources and to create the conditions necessary to ensure the press can continue its crucial role in maintaining free and fair societies, without government interference or intimidation.”