His newspaper is one of the top most-read online publications worldwide and this afternoon Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, described the South African media landscape as robust, diverse and “pretty free and inquiring.”
Rusbridger, who has been at the helm of the British publication for nearly twenty years, was speaking to a gathering of editors, senior journalists, media academics and students at Wits University about the Edward Snowden story. The Guardian broke the story of whistleblower Snowden, who is credited with exposing the extent of international surveillance, in 2013.
Rusbridger told the audience that the decision to publish the Snowden story was “a question of public interest”, even when the British government argued against the publication on the grounds of “national security.”
In facing some of the backlash against the paper’s decision to publish the Snowden story, Rusbridger said the support of the journalism community helped his organisation. “It is important as a community of journalism to stick together.”
Rusbridger explained that while there is obvious anxiety in South Africa regarding media freedom, especially in light of the secrecy bill (the protection of state information bill), if the media responds by cutting back on the news that sells papers then it is giving consumers an excuse not to buy the paper.
Mondli Makhanya, former editor-in-chief of The Sunday Times, asked Rusbridger about how to react to a government that is mobilising people against the media.
Rusbridger’s response was that “journalism lives in a different place from government … media has a new role to fight [which is] explaining ‘why’ they are publishing a story.” Ultimately that defence should be able to rest on a foundation of the public interest.