FREEDOM OF THE PRESS IS VITAL

The Somerset Guardian, 17th July 2019

Last week, Sir Kim Darroch resigned as British Ambassador to Washington following a leak of his confidential memos, including criticisms of President Trump and how the White House is being administered.

In response to the disclosures, Scotland Yard terror chief, Neil Basu, issued a statement indicating that criminal charges could be faced if any further documents were leaked. The Mail on Sunday rightly ignored the caution by publishing more details.

I agree with Boris Johnson who said at a recent campaign event that "a prosecution on this basis would amount to an infringement on press freedom and have a chilling effect on public debate…" George Osborne, former Chancellor and now Editor of the Evening Standard went further, saying that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner should ‘quickly distance’ herself from the ‘ill-advised statement’ should she wish ‘to maintain [her] credibility and the credibility of [her] force.’

The step taken by Scotland Yard is both unusual and unwise and even though there was an apparent U-turn when it issued a statement respecting the rights of the media, claiming that it did not seek to prevent editors publishing stories, there was a further warning that releasing certain documents could ‘constitute a criminal offence” if they were a breach of the Official Secrets Act.

Press freedom is a chief instrument of liberal democracy and should not be stymied. The issue at hand is not what is published but who leaked it. If Scotland Yard ought to punish anyone it should be the person who demonstrated a flagrant lack of discretion when in possession of diplomatically-sensitive material, not the press.
 

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