The Listening Post

Behind the Sunday Times Snowden saga

Anonymous official sources go after Edward Snowden in the UK’s media; plus, 30 years of covering Cuba from Miami.

Last week, the front page of Britain’s Sunday Times bore the headline: British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.

For the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper’s largely conservative audience, the implied breach of security perpetrated by former US National Surveillance Agency (NSA) analyst Edward Snowden could not have been more alarming.

However, standing behind that headline was not a shred of evidence, not one provable fact. Rather, the Sunday Times’ bold statement was founded on unnamed government sources making unsubstantiated claims which the journalists involved apparently left unquestioned. Critics panned the piece for swallowing the official line whole – something that Tom Harper of the Sunday Times saw no reason to deny.

“We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment,” Harper told CNN in an interview.

The idea that a whistleblower may have put national security at risk is a useful one for governments facing ever more scrutiny over the legal and moral basis for mass surveillance and other repressive domestic policies. Daniel Ellsberg and Chelsea Manning will know how Edward Snowden feels.

Joining us to talk about the national security narrative and the line between stenography and journalism are Richard Norton Taylor of the Guardian; Ryan Gallagher of the Intercept; as well as Snowden sceptics Michael Cohen from the Boston Globe; and Anthony Glees, the director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham.

Other news stories on our radar this week: An editor in Turkey has been convicted of insulting the president with a tweet – the sentence was suspended but he says the message was clear; a letter to the New York Times from a jailed Azerbaijani journalist gets a government rewrite for publication back home; and Israel takes aim at foreign journalists in a satirical cartoon but the press corps in Tel Aviv are not amused.

Radio and TV Marti: Covering Cuba from Miami

For our feature story we return to Cuba – this time viewed from Miami where state department-funded Radio and TV Marti has spent the last three decades trying to offer citizens of the revolutionary island a more US-friendly version of the news.

The broadcaster now has a job to convince its funders that it still has relevance as US-Cuba relations thaw. The Listening Post‘s Marcela Pizarro reports from Miami on Radio and TV Marti’s existential question.

Lastly, we pay homage to a ‘digital magician’ who has become one of the biggest stars on Vine, which is a social network where you get just six-second video slots to make your point. Zach King packs some serious ‘wow’ factor into his ‘magic Vines’ and if you do not believe us, watch him steal the Eiffel Tower in a flash.