Agence France Presse reports:
The Pentagon has banned journalists with the popular defense daily Stars and Stripes from consulting leaked diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, prompting charges of censorship.
“The editorial independence of Stars and Stripes and its readers’ right to news free of censorship are being threatened by an overly broad and misdirected response to the Wikileaks debacle,” the daily wrote.
“Amazingly, the government wants to bar this newspaper’s journalists — along with most federal workers — from reading information already plastered all over the public square.”
In the article, the daily’s ombudsman Mark Prendergast revealed that the Pentagon communications department had advised that “access to any classified information hosted on non-DoD systems from any government-owned system is expressly prohibited” even if it was now in the public arena.
Although Stars and Stripes is officially authorized by the Pentagon it is editorially independent and its journalists are guaranteed the right of freedom of expression contained in the US Constitution.
Mark Prendergast writes:
Putting reporters and editors under strictures intended for keepers of the nation’s secrets contradicts the fundamental purpose of journalism: to seek information, not avoid it.
More pointedly, this action imperils the editorial independence and First Amendment freedoms that Congress demanded of the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes two decades ago and then acted to ensure by authorizing an ombudsman to provide “aggressive and objective oversight.”
Journalists are supposed to report before they write. That means gathering as much information as they can – in breadth and depth – and consulting primary sources whenever feasible.
That might mean an editor clicking on Wikileaks to verify information in a wire story. Or an art director doing a screen grab to illustrate that story. Or a reporter reading a document in full for context in assessing a statement about it.
This newspaper needs to report more, not less.
Yet the government is demanding the opposite – less reporting. That’s enforcing ignorance by design, and that’s not just troubling by journalism standards. It imperils the “free flow of news and information” promised to Stars and Stripes readers.