2011-03-19 The Guardian: Redacting, censoring or lying?

WL Central published an article two days ago, outlining the extraordinarily heavy handed redaction by the Guardian of a Bulgarian cable. Wikileaks tweeted the article, saying it was "Another very serious example of the Guardian "cable cooking" in violation of WikiLeaks agreements". Guardian investigations editor David Leigh responded with "@wikileaks Another stupid lie from #Assange alleging 'cable censorship' by #Guardian, (stuck with UK libel laws as he knows). What a liar!"

Wikileaks did not however, accuse the Guardian of cable censorship, they accused them of "cable cooking". A closer inspection of what happened in this one instance of cable redaction by the Guardian indicates that the Wikileaks description was closer to the mark. In fact, an examination of this document brings a feeling that the world will be in for Cablegate 2.0 when we finally get to see these cables without Guardian redaction.

The redaction on this particular cable is best shown here. The parts redacted by the Guardian are in green.

Before we examine further what was done to this document, it would be good to remember the alternative solutions available were the Guardian truly afraid that the libel laws which did not guard against reports on Gaddafi's botox, hair implants and Ukrainian nurse would suddenly kick in to protect Bulgarian mafia. The first and obvious choice would be to not publish this cable. There were, after all, 251,287 cables to choose from, and after redaction all this cable informed us was that there was crime in Bulgaria, reinforcing the oft repeated claim that the cables tell us nothing new (except gossip about Gaddafi's botox). The other, even better solution, would be to publish this cable while informing the readers that they were only viewing 1406 of the original 5226 words and showing by the typical " ... " or other, where the redactions were made. One would think that would be the only course open to an ethical news source.

Instead, point seven, an extensive 3,986 word analysis of organized crime in Bulgaria containing paragraphs A through M and entitled "Who's Who In Bulgarian Organized Crime?", is brought down to three short paragraphs (357 words) in the Guardian, with no indication that the redaction has taken place. Taken with the preceding and following sections and the title, the implication is that those three paragraphs contain the complete analysis of organized crime in Bulgaria. Since this redacted cable is included as the official source document from the US State embassy in Sofia, the implication is also that this is what the US embassy felt Bulgarian crime amounted to.

To "cook" this document, the Guardian did not present three sequential paragraphs, or even three self contained paragraphs. Instead, they went through the thousands of words available, and spliced a few sentences together to make up their own paragraphs, further altering the meaning of the document. Now a sentence that reads as though it refers to someone in the previous sentence, actually had referred to someone completely different. Now the extensive and complicated world of Bulgarian organized crime appears to be the work of one Russian. This leaves "censorship" and "redaction" in the dust and proceeds directly to the "lying" the Guardian editor was accusing Wikileaks of.

Apparently, the Guardian believes that Bulgarians, but not Russians, are covered by UK libel laws; looking at the incredible volume of redaction and the few sentences used, the selection criteria seems to be for any sentence containing the words "Russia" / "Soviet Union" (nine references) or "sex" / "prostitution" / similar (six references). Of the three sentences which make up the second paragraph, two are almost the exact same, but it allows prostitution to be mentioned twice along with "trafficking in women for sexual exploitation", and "escort and intimate services businesses". Paragraphs one and three are centred around the words "Russia" and "Soviet Union".

There are many questions brought to mind by this, the first of which is of course, why would anyone read the Guardian? But the second would be, why is the Guardian apparently protecting the Bulgarian mafia and preventing people from accessing the truth? Why is the Guardian deliberately misleading its readers, if not outright lying? And last, if we are to believe the Guardian editor's claims regarding UK libel laws, in all the talks we have heard about redaction of Wikileaks documents to protect innocent civilians, why was it not also mentioned that documents were being redacted to protect the Guardian from the lawsuits that Wikileaks has been facing down since its inception?