Jonathan Freedland was sent out on January 25th to man the barricades against the rising tide of criticism over the Guardian’s decision to publish the leaked ‘Palestine papers’.
It has to be said that he did his best; invoking fine principles such as the readers’ right to know and opposition to the suppression of information, as well as disconnecting journalistic obligations from the management of their aftermath.
“Of course publication will have political consequences, even awkward ones. But that cannot be for journalists and editors to decide: their job is to find out what is happening and report it, as best they can. The consequences are for others to manage.”
He even appears to have convinced himself to a certain extent that the Guardian is to be congratulated for playing the catalyst in the recent uprising in Tunisia by publishing the Wikileaks cables, although it may be prudent to wait and see how that pans out before handing out the bouquets. Should the Islamists gain power, the general population may yet prove to be no better off than before.
“The point here is that journalists shouldn’t be expected to weigh all the possible consequences of publication because the most important can – as in the Tunisia case – be unforeseen. Already there are signs of that with the Palestine papers.”
Loyalty, such as that displayed by Mr. Freedland to his paper and to his profession, is in general a fine thing, but only when the recipient of that loyalty has proved itself to be deserving of it. Freedland admits that he does not know the source of the leaked papers and is apparently unconcerned by that fact.
“ I don’t know the identity of the source for the Palestine papers, but I’d be pretty surprised if they didn’t have a purpose for their actions. That is true of every leak through recorded time.”
We must therefore presume that Freedland blindly places his trust in ‘those in the know’ at the Guardian. He must trust them to have ensured that the documents are in fact genuine, because all his fine claims regarding the journalist’s role in helping the public gain access to information only hold water if that information is true. He must trust that that the ‘purpose for their actions’ is a laudable and decent one because otherwise he may well find himself complicit in enabling processes which contradict his principles.
It is therefore crucial that honest brokers such as Jonathan Freedland do not balk at asking some of the more difficult and possibly complex questions surrounding the ‘Palestine papers’ leaks.
Do the Guardian’s claims to have authenticated the papers hold water? How and by whom was that process carried out?
How did the Guardian become involved in the publication of the leaked papers? Did Al Jazeera approach the Guardian, or the other way round?
Were financial transactions involved and if so, did they include Qatari government or Hamas money?
Did the source of the leaks approach Al Jazeera and/or the Guardian, or was the initiative to get hold of the papers born before the source was located?
What is the nature –if any – of connections between the source of the leaks and the British Government and/or the Adam Smith Institute?
What – if any – is the significance of the fact that the Guardian’s Seumas Milne attended a conference organized and hosted by Al Jazeera in Qatar in May 2010? Is there relevance in the fact that Azmi Bishara also attended that conference and that a member of his family who worked at the NSU has been suggested as a possible source of the leaks?
Does the fact that yet another participant in that conference – Osama Hamdan of the Hamas political bureau – had an article on the subject of the leaked papers published in the Guardian on January 26th indicate more than mere cordial journalistic connections between certain employees of the Guardian and the Hamas leadership?
Does Jonathan Freedland condone the Guardian’s provision of a platform to a man who has expressed specific support for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and who states his aim as being “to wipe that entity [Israel] off the face of the earth”?
These may not be easy questions to ask, but they are essential ones if Jonathan Freedland wishes to ensure that his integrity is not being exploited and he himself taken for a ride by others less principled than he.