The Board of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) strongly encourages the U.S. government to exercise great restraint when considering matters surrounding the documents released through Wikileaks or taking any actions that could undermine American traditions of a free press and open government.
While controversy exists about the nature of Wikileaks’ activities and the disclosure of information leaked from government sources, the Board is deeply troubled about the impact that improper or imprudent government response could have upon First Amendment freedoms that are essential to a healthy democracy.
Profound injustices and wrongdoing have been exposed throughout the history of our nation when documents that an agency or organization wanted to keep secret were brought to light. Politicians routinely leak classified information to advance certain political agendas, while cloaking contrary information in official secrecy.
Our society was founded upon principles supporting the free flow of information and empowering citizens and the press to speak out about matters of concern. And throughout our country's history, the news media has played a pivotal role by obtaining and analyzing information for the purpose of public accountability. There is ample evidence, from Watergate and the Pentagon Papers to more recent examinations of warrantless government eavesdropping, that such reporting can be of vital importance to protecting our freedoms and values while serving as an essential check on government power.
Our Constitution contemplates that a free press has the responsibility to act as a government watchdog, and it is incumbent on the news media and all journalists to do so in a responsible way. Many news organizations that have published articles based on the documents released by Wikileaks have applied time-honored journalistic standards and exercised reasonable care to exclude potentially harmful information, such as the identities of confidential informants.
A free press operating within the law must have the ability to inform the public about newsworthy information without fear of government intervention or reprisals. Our nation's founders understood that such disclosures serve a vital function. Current leaders should not lose sight of the importance of this “safety valve” in a free society. Any action that unlawfully seeks to restrict that process or erodes these rights presents a grave threat to cherished principles of freedom of expression.