Stephen Adler and Homeland Security deal
Sunday 25 March 2018
In his response to Rodney Pinder’s excellent letter setting out the fears of many of us, retired Reuter journalists and managers, over the consequences of the deal with the US Department of Homeland Security, the present editor-in-chief fails to address the real dangers it poses. Indeed, he appears to be answering a completely different letter.
It may well be, as he says, that the parent company’s offshoot business TRSS is “entirely separate from Reuters News”. However, it bears Reuters’ name and that is all that will count for millions of people around the world, both heretofore admirers of the old firm and its detractors.
Associating Reuters’ name with what is essentially an intelligence gathering programme for the US government will surely destroy the overall PERCEPTION of what Reuters stood for over a century and a half, however many times the mantra about objectivity and independence - the principles that guided us all - is repeated.
In nearly 18 years between 1965 and 1991 as a Reuter correspondent in the old Soviet Union I and my colleagues were constantly assailed by insinuations, and sometimes more specific accusations, from ordinary Russians and officials, that Reuters was simply an arm of the British Foreign Office. The standard Soviet handbook on the world press actually said that was the case. Inevitably, this perception limited most access to news beyond TASS, Pravda and other official media. The few Russians who engaged with us were taking very real risks. Dissidents who provided us with information were often accused at their trials of “collaborating with the agents of foreign powers”. Reuter correspondents - and those of other news organisations - were from time to time expelled for “activities incompatible with the status of journalist” - or spying but in reality for news gathering outside official channels.
In those days there was nothing that Soviet officials and the KGB could specifically point to to prove their thesis - although this did not stop them promoting it and acting accordingly. The Soviet Union has gone but for its successor state, and for many other authoritarian and dictatorial regimes around the world, the deal with the US administration will provide the hard evidence they need to show that Reuters, under any of its names, is indeed an intelligence gathering operation. ■