There is a journalistic ethics debate to be had over how the South China Morning Post is treating information they gained from an interview earlier this month with Edward Snowden. How much more does the SCMP know?
The newspaper’s leader on Tuesday contained further revelations from their original Snowden interview, which was almost 2 weeks old by then. The ‘exclusive’ stated that Snowden sought his job at Booz Allen specifically to gather evidence on NSA surveillance. Until Snowden clarifies this, it seemed a very tenuous conclusion to draw from a two-word answer he gave in response to a question about his role at Booz… Nevertheless, SCMP’s Editor-in-Chief Xiangwei Wang told Phoenix TV that Snowden had requested that this information was held back until a specified time when the ‘dust had settled‘. As we know from the Leveson Enquiry, it is not unusual for journalists to negotiate terms or agree to such deals with sources, but has this been the case for all of SCMP’s drip-fed NSA revelations?
Tuesday marked the second time that the SCMP belatedly released details of their June 12th interview with the American whistleblower. Last Sunday, June 23rd, they divulged details of Snowden’s claim that the NSA had hacked cell phone networks in China and network backbones at Tsinghua University and HK’s Pacnet. The newspaper claimed that the revelations were “based on further scrutiny and clarification of information Snowden provided on June 12”. There was no indication that the source had requested that the publishing of this information be postponed. And so, it is odd that ‘scrutinising‘ key points from a single interview could take the SCMP’s several hundred staff almost a fortnight to ‘clarify‘. A cynic might suggest they were intentionally prolonging their 24/7 hard-on for Snowden and squeezing their moment in the international limelight for all it is worth.
Aside from prioritising profit over public interest, this ‘drip-feeding’ of information from a one-off interview could damage the public’s perception of Snowden. The SCMP makes it appear that he has made repeated revelations about HK and China, which feeds into the conspiratorial notion held by some American politicians and analysts that Snowden was somehow ‘working for’ Beijing.
In the case of Wikileaks and The Guardian, revelations were also slow to emerge – often taking weeks to surface. However, files leaked by Bradley Manning to Wikileaks totalled hundreds of gigabytes and did require careful analysis and ‘further scrutiny’.
The IBTimes reports that the “SCMP would be releasing more information based on their interviews with Snowden in the next week or two.” So, once more, what other information is SCMP retaining? Is this retention deliberate? And could late disclosure mean those affected would be slower to act than if the SCMP had simply reported the news when it was ‘new’?
- US Whistleblower Edward Snowden Seeks Refuge in HK, 2013. More on the ‘Support Snowden’ rally: Part I: Preparations, Part II: Global media coverage, Part III: Photos, Part IV: Videos.
More at the Hong Wrong Mega-Index.