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Thursday, June 20, 2013 

The "treachery" of the Graun and the silence of the rest of the media.

On Monday, the Graun ran an extraordinary story.  Detailing how GCHQ had spied on delegates at two G20 summits in London in 2009, it made clear how even those regarded as allies had had their emails intercepted, with agents having gone to the extent of setting up internet cafes so as to make the process easier.  Justified on the grounds of defending "economic well-being", a clause included in the Intelligence Services Act 1994, it was really something far more mundane: an attempt to gain any sort of advantage in the negotiations.

Considering how much the right-wing press love Gordon Brown, you might have thought that the Graun's revelations would have had a significant impact.  But no.  With the exception of a couple of follow-ups, it seems most of the rest of the media wasn't interested.  Nor were they taken with the Graun's live Q&A session with their source for all the stories on the NSA, Prism and GCHQ, Edward Snowden.  With the exception of an attack piece in the Mail by Stephen Glover, where the man who was one of the founders of the Independent now writes up what Paul Dacre tells him to, nor has there been any real criticism of the paper for what Glover calls "treachery".  Roy Greenslade wonders why.

The most obvious answer, it seems, is that the D-Notice committee issued a polite note to editors after the first tranche of stories were given wide coverage.  While, as always, there had not yet been any contravention of the committee's guidelines, the "intelligence services are concerned that further developments of this same theme may begin to jeopardize both national security and possibly UK personnel".  How this could be the case when all the revelations have done is alerted the average citizen to just how far surveillance of the internet and phone calls has gone, with little in the way of oversight, and how GCHQ and the NSA work together is unclear.  If ever there was an example of the warning off of editors from publishing anything else, quite clearly this it.

All the same, as Dominic Ponsford writes, this doesn't explain why the media didn't bother to follow up the Graun's stories.  Once the Graun had breached the order, which is voluntary, the information was in the public domain and so there was no reason for the rest of the media to continue to abide by the order, as indeed happened once the news of Prince Harry's deployment to Afghanistan became public.  It also can't be that the Graun is now viewed as beyond the pale, else the original reports on the NSA wouldn't have been covered in the detail that they were.

It's more, as we've seen, that the security services are the one part of the state that tends to get a free pass from both right and left.  Where the left tends to have a blind side when it comes to the NHS and the right often seems to think the police can do no wrong (although even that's changed in recent times with the likes of the Mail deciding the police have become just another part of the PC (groan) state), both seem to be overwhelmed by how "keeping us safe" trumps civil liberties and basic accountability every time.  William Hague in the Commons didn't even attempt to seriously engage with the questions about how GCHQ worked with the NSA on Prism, he just said everything was hunky dory, and that was enough for both politicians and the press.  It is, as Greenslade writes, remarkable that the press that makes so much of its independence from the state and raises hell at the threat of regulation finds so little to worry about when it comes to the darkest reaches of government.

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