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06 December 2013

Alan Rusbridger

A Festival of Ideas event MC’d by ABC journalist and presenter Annabel Crabb left Ruby thinking – books are always a great Christmas present.

Crabb was speaking with Alan Rusbridger (above) in relation to his newspaper career as Editor of The Guardian and his new book: Play it Again: An Amateur Against the Impossible.

Crabb questioned Rusbridger about Edward Snowden and intelligence leaks, working with our own Julian Assange on WikiLeaks and phone hacking.

Rusbridger has been the editor of the Guardian (which now has an online Australian edition) for 18 years, and shot to world household fame when the paper broke the story in 2011 about phone hacking in the UK, which eventually led to the Leveson Inquiry: a judicial public inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal.

At the centre of WikiLeaks with Australian Julian Assange (Rusbridger termed Assange, “an Information Impresario”), he and the Guardian are now embroiled in American whistle blower Edward Snowden’s massive collection of information around spying by intelligence agencies on everyone and anyone. Australia’s own acts in relation to Indonesia, for example.

During the talk with Crabb, Rusbridger defended the newspaper’s role in publishing the explosive spy dealings of intelligence agencies, pointing out that the action has now provoked a debate about the extent of intelligence activities which was not being instigated by politicians or others.

Crabb also asked Rusbridger why publishing and using hacked information on intelligence spying was okay but publishing and using hacked phone information was not?

His answer came down to consent and that agencies listening to and following private citizens without their knowledge was out of the question.

He also noted, governments and agencies that don’t understand that information is now available globally and that it will be published by someone, whether or not newspapers or journalists exist , “are missing the point” and “must be bats”.

The role that “bloggers in pyjamas” can and will play in the delivery of news and content was also up for discussion and is, according to Rusbridger, something that professionals ignore at their peril. 

Indeed the recognition that amateurs will continue to play an important part in breaking news is something that the Guardian has embraced and is a factor that has contributed to its global online success.

According to Rusbridger, the Guardian in Australia has quadrupled expectations financially. The successful result due, in no small part, to the work and “intelligence” of its editor here.

Katherine Viner is the editor of the media outlet in Australia and the Deputy Editor of the UK Guardian.

Rusbridger also noted that the Guardian’s online future is a success, globally, contributing to about a quarter of the organisation’s revenue. As for the newspaper itself, that is up for debate, although he was positive about its future.

One audience question that left Ruby thinking, was: What happens when a government closes down or tightly restricts communications with the media and its public?

Buy the book Play It Again, or you could always settle in with The Fifth Estate the movie-ised version of WikiLeaks.

Fifth Estate

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