LONDON Feb 12 Europe's main media freedom
watchdog told Britain on Wednesday it believed political
pressure applied to the Guardian newspaper over its handling of
leaked intelligence data could have a "chilling effect" on
Former U.S. intelligence operative Edward Snowden's
disclosures about activities of Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping
agency and its cooperation with America's National Security
Agency (NSA) have embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron's
government which has said they damaged national security.
Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.
"The continual accusations and attacks on the Guardian,
their editor-in-chief and journalists by leading politicians is
nothing but harassment and intimidation," Dunja Mijatovic,
representative for media freedom at the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters.
Lawmakers summoned Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the
Guardian, to a high-profile hearing in parliament in December
during which they asked him whether he loved his country and
whether he accepted he had committed a terrorism offence.
He said he had never lost control of the Snowden data or
leaked the names of any spies.
Rusbridger said separately that the government had
threatened legal action against his paper unless it destroyed
the classified documents or handed them back. As a result,
government officials watched last summer as computers with
material provided by Snowden were physically pulverised.
Just last month, Cameron said he was unhappy newspapers were
still publishing sensitive information leaked by Snowden.
Cameron has threatened to act to stop publication and has
accused unnamed newspapers of assisting Britain's enemies by
helping them avoid surveillance by its intelligence services. He
has named the Guardian as printing such material.
Responding to questions about whether there was a police
investigation into the left-leaning Guardian, a senior police
officer said in December that "some people" may have committed
terrorism offences for their handling of the Snowden data.
Mijatovic, who met the editor of the Guardian in London last
month, said she was increasingly concerned about the amount of
pressure the newspaper was coming under.
"Just the possibility of raising terrorism-related criminal
charges against journalists is problematic because it has a
chilling effect," she said. "We are talking about issues that
are...matters of public interest."
"I am not in any way challenging a government's legitimate
right to fight terrorism and other threats, but laws should
never be used to hinder the work of journalists and suppress
free media and the right to free expression".
"Journalists must be free to report on all stories. I am
surprised by the lack of solidarity by other UK media and
journalists," she said.