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Although the story unleashed a firestorm in Germany and around the world, Der Spiegel’s handling of the news has drawn little if any criticism, neither for tipping off the government nor for publishing an ally’s secrets.
"The autonomy of the press is ensured in Germany," said Klaus-Dieter Altmeppen, a professor for communication studies at the Catholic University of Eichstaett. "Therefore, we don’t have the kind of problems between the media and the government here that exist in other countries when it comes to the publication of the NSA files."
The biggest change for news organizations publishing Snowden documents is that it marks a huge step forward in their access to intelligence information. As they have done in the past, publications often query government officials before making a decision on what to release.
Barton Gellman, the Washington Post reporter who broke the story about NSA’s PRISM data-gathering program, said at a conference last month that U.S. government officials had asked him not to publish the names of Yahoo Inc., Google Inc. and seven other Internet companies participating in the NSA program.
Gellman said he refused because that would have undermined the Post’s principal mission of holding U.S. institutions accountable. Including the technology companies’ names propelled them to argue for greater transparency about NSA’s operations to show customers that they were taking privacy concerns seriously, he said.
Gellman said he had "long conversations" with U.S. government officials about the NSA documents and agreed there was information in them that raised legitimate U.S. security concerns.
"We quickly agreed that that would not be in the story and it turns out the Guardian made substantially identical decisions without any mutual consultation," Gellman said.
The New York Times has not published as many articles based on Snowden’s information as the Guardian.
Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the Times, said that she’d been approached by a British diplomat in Washington and asked to relinquish the Snowden documents. She said she refused.
Abramson also told BBC’s "Newsnight" television program that she was distressed to see criticism of the reporters breaking the NSA spying stories.
"We balance the need to inform the public against possible harm to national security, and we do that very seriously and soberly," she said.
Satter reported from London. Associated Press writers Kristen Grieshaber in Berlin, Angela Charlton in Paris, Richard Lardner in Washington and David Bauder in New York contributed to this report.
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