Julian Petley

The state journalism is in: Edward Snowden and the British press

This paper examines the reactions on the part of the government and much of the British national press to Edward Snowden's revelations in the Guardian about massive surveillance by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and the National Security Agency (NSA). It argues that the revelations were politically embarrassing as opposed to damaging to national security, and that although the government could be expected to adopt a hostile attitude to the Guardian, it might appear strange that newspapers such as the Sun, Mail and Telegraph did likewise, effectively backing calls for the paper to be prosecuted. However, such a stance is surprising only if one regards such newspapers as conforming to a 'Fourth Estate' model of journalism. This paper argues that they, along with most of the rest of the British national press, are actually a key part of the Establishment rather than a watchdog over it. It is, therefore, entirely unsurprising that when the government and the security services declare that a particular example of journalistic activity endangers 'national security' or damages the 'national interest', most newspapers accept this judgement without demur, and act accordingly.

Keywords: Snowden, Guardian, Rusbridger, national security, GCHQ


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Note on the contributor

Julian Petley is Professor of Screen Media in the School of Arts at Brunel University, chair of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and a member of the advisory board of Index on Censorship and of the editorial board of the British Journalism Review. His most recent book is the edited collection The media and public shaming (I. B. Tauris, 2013).