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Home » British police warning to media over leaked memos stirs anger
Kuwait Times

British police warning to media over leaked memos stirs anger

WASHINGTON: The British Embassy is seen in Washington, DC, following the resignation of British Ambassador to the US Kim Darroch, after US President Donald Trump said he would no longer deal with him after he called Trump ‘inept.’ – AFP

LONDON: Senior
British politicians, including one of the contenders to be the next prime
minister, joined journalists yesterday in criticizing police for warning media
not to publish leaked government documents, saying it was a “dangerous
road to tread”. Last week, a Sunday newspaper published leaked memos from
Britain’s Washington ambassador that provoked a serious diplomatic spat with US
President Donald Trump and ultimately led to the envoy announcing his
resignation.

Britain’s most
senior counter-terrorism officer, Neil Basu, said on Friday police would
investigate who was responsible but also warned journalists and publishers they
too could be in breach of the law if further documents were leaked. “I
would advise all owners, editors and publishers of social and mainstream media
not to publish leaked government documents that may already be in their
possession, or which may be offered to them, and to turn them over to the
police or give them back to their rightful owner, Her Majesty’s
Government,” Basu said. His comments provoked anger and criticism from
journalists, editors and politicians who said it risked infringing the freedom
of the press

“The state
threatening media freedom is a dangerous road to tread,” Health Minister
Matt Hancock said on Twitter. George Osborne, editor of the London Evening
Standard and a former finance minister, described the remarks as a “very
stupid and ill-advised statement from a junior officer who doesn’t appear to
understand much about press freedom”. His view was echoed by both men
battling to replace Theresa May as prime minister when she steps down on July
24 because she failed to deliver Britain’s exit from the European Union.

‘That is their
job’

Foreign Secretary
Jeremy Hunt and his predecessor Boris Johnson said the leaker should be found
but the press should not be targeted. “It cannot be conceivably right that
newspapers or any other media organization publishing such material should face
prosecution,” Johnson, also a former mayor of London, told an event in
central England.

Hunt wrote on
Twitter: “I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those
leaks if they receive them & judge them to be in the public interest: that
is their job.” The Mail on Sunday newspaper last week published cables
from Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the United States, in which he called
the Trump administration “inept”, prompting the president to label
him “very stupid” and “wacky”.

The spat has
become one of the central issues of the contest for the leadership of the
governing Conservative Party and the next prime minister that will be decided
by about 160,000 members of the Conservative Party. A diplomatic source told
Reuters that the lack of backing from the frontrunner, Boris Johnson, had been
a factor in Darroch’s decision to resign. Johnson himself acknowledged his
comments had been partly responsible but denied he was to blame.

Not all
politicians, though, felt the police were wrong. Security minister Ben Wallace
said members of the public were bound by parts of the Official Secrets Act.
“If (journalists) are receiving stolen material they should give it back
to their rightful owner and they should also be aware of the huge damage that’s
already been done and the potentially even greater damage that could be
done,” former defence minister Michael Fallon told BBC radio. – Reuters

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