Newspapers defend publishing WikiLeaks memos

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The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde on Sunday defended their decision to publish hundreds of secret US diplomatic memos obtained by WikiLeaks while voluntarily withholding certain information.

The Times, in a note to readers, said it believes the documents "serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match."

At the same time, the newspaper said it has "taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security."

Both Britain's The Guardian and France's Le Monde said they had made voluntary redactions in the 250,000 diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world obtained by the whistleblower website.

Germany's Der Spiegel and Spain's El Pais also received the memos and Le Monde said that all five publications had worked together to edit out names whose public release could put persons in physical danger.

The Times said it had submitted the cables it planned to post to the US government and "invited them to challenge publication of any information that, in the official view, would harm the national interest."

The newspaper said it had "agreed to some, but not all" of the redactions suggested by US officials.

"The question of dealing with classified information is rarely easy, and never to be taken lightly," the Times said. "Editors try to balance the value of the material to public understanding against potential dangers to the national interest.

"For The Times to ignore this material would be to deny its own readers the careful reporting and thoughtful analysis they expect when this kind of information becomes public," it said.

"But the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money.

"As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name," the Times said.

The center-left Guardian argued that most of the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks had already been posted on a US government intranet site with a "very wide" audience and were thus barely secret.

"These confidences were posted on a US government intranet... for a very wide distribution among diplomatic, government and military circles," the newspaper said.

"They may have been marked 'secret' but all secrets are relative: there are around three million Americans cleared to read material thus classified," it said.

"There are some cables the Guardian will not be releasing or reporting owing to the nature of sourcing or subject matter," the newspaper said, adding that "domestic libel laws impose a special burden on British publishers."

Le Monde said it believed its mission was to "examine the documents, subject them to journalistic analysis and make them available to our readers.

"To inform, however, does not rule out acting responsibly," Le Monde said. "Transparency and judgement are not incompatible -- and that is undoubtedly what distinguishes our strategy from that at the heart of WikiLeaks."

© 2010 AFP

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