Newspapers are playing a vital role in the release of classified US diplomatic cables by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, the editor of the Guardian said today.

WikiLeaks, which began publishing the first batch from the 251,287 files last night, has once again partnered with the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times to publish the material. The same group media effort was deployed for previous leaks of US military files on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said the newspaper partners had provided necessary context and made redactions to the material. Previous leaks by WikiLeaks have been criticised for being unredacted and containing information that could put the safety of individual people named in the files at risk.

Rusbridger said that five people working on the publication were dedicated to making redactions: "WikiLeaks would have published all this material anyway, they would have published it in a gigantic dump and what the involvement of newspapers has been able to do with the Afghanistan and Iraq episodes has been to redact sources and to give context. I think the White House itself has acknowledged that newspapers have played a helpful role in this.

"My personal view is that it would be harmful to dump all this stuff completely unredacted - I don't know if that's what they would have done in the end, but certainly, we were able to redact ... The diplomats that I've spoken to are astonished that this material was shared on a system that could be accessed by 2.5 million American people."

Rusbridger said he couldn't see how the publication of private material and conversations was harming the public interest, but that the Guardian's work on the cables release was a contribution to press freedom.

"I think it is a good thing that newspapers should bring this stuff into the public arena. It's not the job of the media to worry about the embarrassment of world leaders who have been caught saying different things in public and private ... especially some of these gulf states that don't have a free press. If the president of Yemen is saying different things and lying to his own public about what's going on, I don't think it's the job of the newspapers to hush that up," he said.

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