Wednesday, 1 December 2010

What's the diffference between stealing the US embassy diplomatic cables and phone-hacking?

Trinity Mirror Regional's head of multimedia David Higgerson has compared the obtaining by WikiLeaks of the US embassy diplomatic cables to phone-hacking.

Writing on his blog, he says: "While, as a journalist, I find the sudden access to documents we should never expect to see fascinating, there are several things which trouble me.

"The first concern is how different publishing material which was effectively stolen from a government is to publishing information obtained by phone hacking. The Guardian has made a crusade out of trying to chase down News International and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson over the phone hacking allegations. It became such a crusade that many people had stopped listening to the Guardian’s protests and only began to take it seriously again when the New York Times appeared in London with allegations which, when boiled down, weren’t that different to everything the Guardian had been saying.

"But how different is using information gleaned from alleged phone-hacking to using information which has been obtained using methods which many argue are illegal? Does the fact that you perhaps didn’t commission the potentially illegal act – as has been claimed of the NOTW – make a big difference?

"By it’s own admission, The Guardian says it does not know for sure the source of the information. Obviously, the fact someone has been arrested provides one potential clue.

"The obvious defence in such a situation is to argue that it is in the public interest to know. You could certainly argue that in the case of earlier leaks via Wikileaks around Afghanistan and the excellent work done around the Iraq war logs.

"But in the case of these cables, we have some very interesting – and potentially very important – stories emerging but each cable is, generally, the thoughts of one person, feeding information and thoughts – some say gossip – into the US government. Just because the words are written in a cable doesn’t mean it’s the full story, nor does it mean it’s true."

He adds: "Time will tell what impact they have. The Guardian tried to build things up on Sunday night by saying world diplomacy was in crisis in its first report. Other newspapers given preferential access by Wikileaks spoke of ‘meltdown’ on Sunday night.

"On the surface, three days in, neither assertion appears to be true. If the smoking gun is there, it’s yet to be revealed. Maybe it will be, and the public interest will be demonstrated – but at the moment, it feels as though we’re dealing with little more than a lot of previously secret opinions obtained in a way which could have broken the law. Is that so far removed from phone hacking by a third party?"

  • Roy Greenslade has posted his reaction to David Higgerson on his MediaGuardian blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The difference is that information obtained by phone hacking belongs to a private individual. The information published by Wikileaks belongs to us all; it is generated on our behalf by people we pay.

There are arguments against publishing diplomatic cables but they are not the same as the arguments against taking an individual's private information without his or her consent.