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?

Libel Laws

The claims of Leigh-Harding gang about the Libel Law are without merit, for a simple reason. We are familiar with the proceedure of uploading cables. If the Guardian were anxious to avoid libel law trouble, they could publish on their site a heavily censored version and UPLOAD to wikileaks the full version. However they did not do it: they uploaded the censored version. QED - they abused their privilege for their own purposes.
Re Bulgarian cable: I had to get the full cable from Julian personally as I was asked by the Bulgarians who eventually published it.

The Guardian: Redacting, censoring or lying?

The Guardian doesn't have any earthly reason to protect the Bulgarian mafia from exposure. The process our writers went through in publishing information from the cables, was to write articles drawing attention to e.g. the Russian criminal mafia. We did this to such an extent that our Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, was thrown out with his family. We also published the text of supporting cables where we were able to: these were vetted by our libel lawyers, and where there were allegations against individuals that couldn't be proved, these had to be redacted. The Guardian can be sued for what it publishes in the UK. WIkileaks on the other hand, can publish what it likes. We're not stopping them. It's a fair point that we could, and perhaps should, have explained all this. But no-one at the Guardian imagined we were going to be accused of conspiring with Bulgarian organised crime!

Protecting, not conspiring

David, you are tampering with the text again. No one accused you of "conspiring with Bulgarian organised crime" you were accused of "apparently protecting the Bulgarian mafia", and, willfully or no, that has been the result of the Guardian's actions in this case. Anyone reading your version of the cable is left with the absolute impression that this, in the eyes of the world's most sophisticated intelligence gathering country, is the extent of Bulgarian organised crime.

I would also really like to know why your lawyers felt that the Bulgarians were a libel risk but not the Russians? And Atanas' excellent question also deserves an answer. And your readers deserve to know, at the very least, what you have redacted, why you have redacted it and where you have redacted it.

As to Wikileaks being able to publish what it likes, so can the Guardian if they, like Wikileaks, are willing to suffer the consequences. True journalism has never been for the faint of heart.

Professional advantage vs Public interest

Dear David,

As I wrote in my article (cited here http://wlcentral.org/node/1480): "We can only guess the reason of the Guardian journalists to conceal individuals and businesses the Embassy believes are part of organized crime."

Thank you for clearing this point. We also consult our libel lawyer and we know what we are risking under bulgarian law.

In the extended version of my article I wrote the following:

"It will be real pity if it turns out journalists from reputed international media use information, provided by Wikileaks as merchandise, whose value depends on the selection of the precise moment to offer it on the market."

So nobody is accusing you of conspiring with Bulgarian organized crime. Instead, there are reasons to believe that Guardian and the other mainstream media, having access to the WL cache, can use exclusively the information hidden from the public, following their own agenda.

Take the example with Petr Smolar, a journalist from Le Monde, who wrote on the same topics, but NEVER published the corresponding Wikileaks cable from Sofia, dated September 11, 2009

Two monts later as a special envoy of the Le Monde, Petr Smolar emerged in Sofia and wrote an extensive article about the conflict between the "public ennemy N°1" Alexei Petrov (his name is in the redacted Sofia cable) and Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, with details about a big wiretap scandal.

Clearly, in such a case, a journalist from Figaro or Liberation, or whatever, will have less information then the journalist from Le Monde, isn't it?

So does the professional advantage is more important then the need of transparency and the public interest to expose the criminal activities?

Thank you for discussing this and excuse my English.

Every incident like this one

Every incident like this one serves to continually reinforce the assertion made by Wikileaks and others: The original source documents should ALWAYS be made available with a news story.

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