Friday, 26 May 2017

Don't Publish and Be Damned

The British government and police and security services were said to be furious with their American counterparts for the leaks of materials from, we assume, the FBI to the media including the New York Times which led to the early identification of the man who carried out the attacks in Manchester and then astonishing details of the way he carried out his attacks. Our authorities have every right to be furious about this. Once again this was America playing fast and loose with materials that had been shared with them in confidence possibly to the detriment of allies and their citizens. It might even have led to more deaths. It still might.

The BBC's Jon Sopel reported last night that American officials in the White House cannot really understand what all the fuss is about, in part because their own rules about evidence and criminal proceedings are very different. This is a bogus excuse and they know it. The fuss is about a friend and ally betraying our trust. Worse they did so and made catching dangerous terrorists more difficult. They may have alerted terrorists about police progress and may even make successful prosecutions more difficult. More than that it is the most appalling arrogance. Donald Trump is in Europe lecturing NATO allies about their not keeping up their end of the bargain on defence funding. He has a point. Yet here we see America not keeping up their end of an intelligence sharing bargain. The intelligence was shared because it has proven useful for various like-minded nations, the so called five eyes, to share and collaborate. That does not give each member the right to leak for no good reason, the information they learn as a consequence.

And what are the media doing here in publishing anyway? What possible justification was there in American outlets publishing what they were told including detailed forensic information that has no legitimate public interest angle other than prurience and curiosity. The Manchester attack has rightly been a huge story around the world. The British media have been extremely restrained in their reporting, at least in the first few days, although its hard to justify their re-publishing details and pictures from the New York Times. But, while foreign media may not be so constrained as our own, they ought surely to exercise some taste, decency and common sense. Or is all of that talk of solidarity just for effect?

In America, thanks to the 1st amendment, the press has a protected right to publish and be damned. Yet this can sometimes make them unspeakably arrogant. It was arrogant in the extreme to publish their stories and those pictures. There was no public interest in publishing, just an interested public. In time all of the information will be in the public arena and that is only right and proper. But we are only 3 days on from those unspeakable acts and a fast moving police investigation is ongoing. There may well be dangerous terrorists intent on more bloody mayhem in the coming days, something quite possible given how many large public events are scheduled. The police and security services are already working flat out to protect us all. Its incumbent on us all not to make their jobs more difficult, especially by publishing a story just for the sake of getting it out first.

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