The lost middle ground of reason

Posted by Prof. Richard Sambrook

One thing that troubles me deeply about the current arguments over the UK security services questioning the partner of Guardian Journalist Glenn Greenwald for 9 hours is their polarising effect.  As I blogged on Tuesday, this is about the role of the state, the rights of the free press and where moral authority lies.

It has become a black and white issue. Nick Cohen has written that we should “remember this morning” for its defining significance. Simon Jenkins suggests the “war on terror” has corrupted democratic government.

But if you are Louise Mensch on Newsnight David Miranda was endangering our agents lives by working with The Guardian (And, de rigeur for the right, she takes a swipe at the BBC as well). Or if you are a Home Office spokesman the notion that information Miranda was carrying might be useful to a terrorist makes him complicit – with an ominous warning that his supporters should be careful what they condone.

So if you support newspapers publishing leaks of secret surveillance activities you are now condoning terrorism. Or if you don’t get onside you may be condoning the secret state.

Reason lies in the complicated middle ground – unfashionable as that may be.

Social Media, advocacy journalism, the need to define and claim the narrative and to be heard leaves little room for middle ground, but it is there that this conflict will be resolved. In that grey area the ethical bridge between these positions will have to be re-built. Journalists have responsibilities towards the state. Governments have responsibilities towards a free and open press.

When positions polarise and harden, responsibilities are overlooked, noise rises and reason gets lost.