The ONA (Online News Association) has given two awards to the UK’s Guardian newspaper for covering the scandal of US spying on its citizens and foreign governments.
The Guardian stood behind the first investigation into the National Security Agency’s massive data scooping schemes based on leaks from the former agency contractor, Edward Snowden. The paper has been publishing weekly new material on the subject.
The British newspaper also won a Gannett prize for its investigative journalism.
The ONA awards for The Guardian amounted to $7,500. Other prizes went to The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post, among others.
The ONA was set up in 1999 and has over 2,000 reporters and journalists among its contributing members. The association has been giving out cash prizes for online journalism since 2000, with the total amount of money awarded exceeding $37,000.
UK tried to get NSA documents from New York Times
Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, has mounted a defence of the ability of journalists at her own paper and at The Guardian to publish public interest stories based on the thousands of secret intelligence files leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Abramson, has confirmed that senior British officials attempted to persuade her to hand over secret documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Giving the newspaper's first official comments on the incident, Abramson said that she was approached by the UK embassy in Washington after it was announced that the New York Times was collaborating with the Guardian to explore some of the files disclosed by Snowden. Among the files are several relating to the activities of GCHQ, the agency responsible for signals interception in the UK.
“I think the issue is that what the Guardian has published, and they have published far more material than we have, that those articles are very much in the public interest and inform the public,” she said during an appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight programme.
Abramson also addressed the criticism which has been directed at the Guardian in recent weeks over its role in illuminating the activities of US and British spy agencies, saying: “It distresses me to see other people in the media being critical of journalists doing their job, which is to inform the public, and I think these articles have been in the service of that”.
Britain has been on Abramson's mind a lot over the past few months. In August, she accepted an invitation from the Guardian to join in the exploration of the files leaked by Edward Snowden, a repeat of the 2010 collaboration between the two news organisations over WikiLeaks in which she was also heavily involved.
The latest joining of forces with the Guardian earned Abramson an approach from the UK embassy in Washington. In the NYT's first official comment on the incident, she says that an embassy figure whom she does not name asked to speak to her several weeks ago. "They were hopeful that we would relinquish any material that we might be reporting on, relating to Edward Snowden".
If that was an attempt to dissuade the NYT from publishing stories about GCHQ and the NSA, it didn't work. The British government had met its match in Abramson: "Needless to say I considered what they told me, and said no."
There's a calm confidence to the way she relates the story that is striking, and very American. She repeats one of her favourite expressions: "The First Amendment is first for a reason. It makes me feel a little like I'm pontificating to cite the founders of this country, but it's true they were so afraid of centralised power that they saw a free press as the critical bulwark against unbridled government and that is our role".
“In dealing with these stories and making very difficult decisions where we weigh, we balance, the need to inform the public against possible harm to national security and we do that very seriously and soberly.”
Asked about claims by MI5 director general, Andrew Parker, that newspaper reports on how the intelligence agencies intercept voice and internet communications were causing “enormous damage” to the fight against terrorism, Abramson said that there had been no proof of actual harm to security.
She compared the warnings by Parker and others to those voiced when the New York Times published reports based on thousands of documents about US policy towards Vietnam after they were leaked in 1971.
Guardian editor to publish more Snowden intelligence revelations
Editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, stated that he plans to publish more revelations from former US NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden in the future.
Warnings were given by Andrew Parker, the head of Britain’s domestic spy agency MI5, yesterday that damage was done to British security by the leaking of classified documents from GCHQ.
Replying to the security question on a BBC Radio 4 programme, Rusbridger stressed that The Guardian was "right to publish files leaked by Snowden".
Furthermore, he noted that the leaked documents were being "slowly and responsibly" worked through and that more stories were being planned for publication in the future. He stressed that people on the security side of the argument over the leakage of intelligence documents wanted to keep everything secret and didn't want a debate and added, "You don't want the press or anyone else writing about it but MI5 cannot be the only voice in the debate".
Rusbridger challenged Parker's claim that the leaking and publication of the NSA files posed a risk to national security. He said: "Glenn Greenwald [the Guardian journalist who obtained the leaked documents] has a phrase that you would have to be a terrorist who didn't know how to tie his shoelace not to believe that people were watching things on the internet and scooping up telephone calls. I don't think some of this will come as a great surprise to terrorists.
"But what is significantly new about what we have been revealing is the extent to which entire populations are now being potentially put under surveillance. I have just spent a week in America where everybody is talking about this from the president down."
Rusbridger warned of attempts in the US to prevent reporting. "There has to be a balance. There have been instances in the last few months where people have gone through metadata to find out reporters' sources … These technologies are formidable. They are beyond what Orwell could have imagined.