Leaks and the changing face of journalism

Al Jazeera Forum debates the phenomenon of leaked government documents and how it is changing journalism.

    While most of the conversation at the recently concluded sixth annual Al Jazeera Forum focused on the ongoing political changes in the Middle East, a particularly interesting session put the spotlight on how major leaks of government documents (such as the Palestine Papers or the documents leaked by Wikileaks) were changing the face of journalism (if at all).

    Leaking documents is, of course a tricky business - between verifying the information contained therein and questioning the intent behind the leak, news organisations have a duty to ensure they not only provide the public with information that is accurate, but also to place said information within the correct context.

    I spoke with Seumas Milne, associate editor at the UK-based Guardian newspaper, about what exactly that process of 'verifying' entails, and also about the fine line that news organisations straddle between being providers of what is considered a 'public good', and also profit-seeking enterprises.

    Milne argues that while investigative journalism is expensive, and so often feels budget cuts deepest, it also gives news organisations an 'exciting' product that generates interest, and hence greater circulation and audiences. Thus while it is a public service, it is also not something that must exist in opposition to the market.

    I also spoke with Amjad Atallah, the director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation (a US-based think tank), about how it can be challenging to verify the motive behind a source leaking information - in particular, we spoke about how, at the end of the day, the ultimate decision about whether or not to publish information is not always dependent on the intent behind the leak, but the actual content of it.


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