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Defying Security State, Guardian Editor Defends Importance of Free Press

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger says only 1% of NSA files reported on so far and promises reporting will continue

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Alan Rusbridger at the select committee today. (Photo via The Guardian)Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger appeared before a parliamentary hearing on terrorism Tuesday to defend the publication's reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and to uphold the necessity for a free press functioning for the public good.

"We are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things." –Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor

Responding to a succession of questions levied by the House of Commons home affairs select committee, Rusbridger spoke to the numerous precautions, in light of national security, undergone by Guardian journalists when reporting on the mass surveillance of the U.S.'s NSA and Britain's GCHQ, as well as the "deliberate attempts to intimidate" the publication by Britain's political establishment.

Throughout the exchange, Rusbridger maintained the essential function of a free press and the greater public service being done in the release of this information.

"It's self-evident," Rusbridger told the panel. "If the president of the U.S. calls a review of everything to do with this and that information only came to light via newspapers then newspapers have done something oversight failed to do."

He continued:

We live in a democracy and most of the people working on this story are British people who have families in this country, who love this country.[...] We are patriots and one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can in this country discuss and report these things. 

During the hearing, Rusbridger also confirmed that only 1% of the information in the Snowden files have been made public so far.

"Will the Guardian continue to publish Snowden stories?" the committee asks.

"We will continue to behave responsibly," Rusbridger responded, "but we will not be put off by intimidation."

The Guardian has provided more complete live coverage of the exchange.

A day ahead of the hearing, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and a coalition of media organizations including ProPublica, the New York Times, the Associated Press, the American Society of News Editors, and the World Association of Newspapers and News sent a letter to the committee expressing their "grave concern" over calls by "those in authority for censorship of The Guardian and criminal prosecution of its journalists in the name of national security."

"Such sanctions," they write, "and the chilling impact created by even the threat to impose them, undermine the independence and integrity of the press that are essential for democracy to function."

"It appears that press freedom itself is under attack in Britain today," they said.

The letter continues:

Recent disclosures concerning secret activities of GCHQ and the U.S. National Security Agency may have embarrassed or angered political leaders, but they have educated the public on critically important matters and sparked a valuable global debate over the proper exercise of the vast surveillance powers that now exist. It is the responsibility of journalists to provide the type of accurate and in-depth news reports published by The Guardian and others that have informed the public and framed important, unresolved issues concerning the balance between security and privacy.

Also Monday, the UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson wrote an op-ed in which he blasted the British government and other media outlets for their persecution of Guardian journalists saying "It is the role of a free press to hold governments to account."

"The astonishing suggestion that this sort of journalism can be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively," he continued. "Attacking the Guardian is an attempt to do the bidding of the services themselves, by distracting attention from the real issues."

Announcing his own investigation into the "unqualified secrecy" of the spy agencies, Emmerson concluded that he has "seen nothing in the Guardian articles that could be a risk to national security. In this instance the balance of public interest is clear."

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