Threats by U.K. officials that the Guardian must "hand the Snowden material back or destroy it" have drawn the ire of the world's press, which has slammed the "intimidation" as having a "chilling effect on press freedom."
In a protest letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications and 15,000 online sites in over 120 countries, write, in part:
According to reports, the decision to destroy the equipment was made by Guardian staff in response to the threat of legal action by the UK government. In attempting to exercise prior-restraint, the government’s aim was to prevent the publication of reports based on the leaked files supplied by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistle-blower, Edward Snowden.
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.
WAN-IFRA fully supports the actions of Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, who explained on numerous occasions that copies of the information stored on the hard drives were held elsewhere under foreign jurisdictions, and that physically handing them over to UK government authorities or destroying them would be a symbolic gesture only.
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The global group also slammed as a sign of declining press freedom the detention of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Miranda was detained for 9 hours and had personal items confiscated at Heathrow airport under the country's Terrorism Act of 2000. Vincent Peyrègne, CEO of WAN-IFRA, ripped Miranda's detention as "a complete misuse of anti-terror legislation."
“I am calling on the Prime Minister of the UK, in the strongest possible terms, to provide his assurance that the necessary inquiries will be made to ensure that any inference of association between journalism and terrorism is not part of official policy that puts the UK on the same level as Turkey and Ethiopia, whose governments misuse anti-terror legislation to silence critics,” Peyrègne continued.
The letter from the world press organization comes on the heels of an open letter to Cameron by editors of Nordic countries' top newspapers, who wrote that the implications of the actions against the Guardian and the detention of Miranda "undermin[e] the position of the free press throughout the world."