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Leader: Democracy depends upon a free media and an informed public

The WikiLeaks cables exposed government corruption, war crimes and human rights abuses.

When Jason Cowley and I first discussed this guest edit over breakfast in January, I explained that I wanted to explore the important but confusing issue of freedom of information. I have been a passionate supporter of WikiLeaks's right to publish with impunity (see the open letter on page 6). The publication of the US diplomatic cables was of immense public interest. The revelations were startling: Washington was conducting wars in Pakistan and Yemen despite official denials; it had encouraged its diplomats at the United Nations to spy on their counterparts; Libya had threatened to impose trade sanctions on the UK if Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was not released; Pope Benedict had impeded child sex abuse investigations within the Catholic Church; the US and China had tried to derail talks on climate change. The cables exposed government corruption, war crimes and human rights abuses. If WikiLeaks had existed ten years ago, would there have been any need for a Chilcot inquiry into the illegal Iraq war?

Defenders of government secrecy who claim that we are safer if the public is kept in ignorance are, in essence, advocating Chinese or Russian models of deceit, censorship and obfuscation. Democracy depends on a strong, free and responsible media, as well as an informed public. That said, what is interesting to the public is not necessarily in the public interest. Regardless of what I think of her politics, I took exception to WikiLeaks's revelation of Sarah Palin's private emails, which contained family photos and friends' addresses. Privacy laws exist to protect us from an over-intrusive state. The Human Rights Act holds that every human being has a right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence. Governments have no such right.

There is a difference between disclosure of information relating to the private lives of individuals and that relating to governments, particularly where it exposes misconduct in public office. For that reason, while we have an article by that titan of the left, Tony Benn, on the citizen's right to be told the truth, and one by Julian Assange defending his right to publish classified information, we have another by Hugh Grant on the right to privacy. He reveals for the first time that he was a victim of illegal phone-hacking by the News of the World - and turns the tables on a former tabloid hacker.

As well as the NS regulars Mehdi Hasan, John Pilger and John Gray, I have enlisted a cross-section of others I admire. Russell Brand takes on Richard Dawkins, "the Abu Hamza of atheism", and proves the existence of God. Simon Pegg describes "wading through the murky waters of that social quagmire" called Twitter. Alain de Botton argues that we must relearn the etiquette of conversation. Tim Robbins writes about the demise of journalism. Oliver Stone thinks Barack Obama should look to Mikhail Gorbachev for lessons in how to dismantle a dysfunctional empire. A A Gill reminds me why I hate the theatre. James Fox investigates the penal system of New Orleans and finds that "Abu Ghraib was not an aberration". Asma Jahangir, Pakistan's foremost human rights lawyer, denounces the country's blasphemy laws. Helena Kennedy, a Europhile, takes issue with the European Arrest Warrant.

Rory Stewart, one of the few sane voices on foreign intervention among British politicians, says that it's not about what we should do, but what we can do (page 28). Karma Nabulsi, PLO rep-turned-Oxford don, discusses Palestinian rights. My brother Zac Goldsmith, recently elected MP for Richmond Park, rants about our broken democracy, reminding me of Sunday lunches at home. And I interview the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, a decent man trapped in a nightmare of his own creation. In The Critics, as well as Will Self and Rachel Cooke, we have Daisy Donovan on film, Mariella Frostrup on radio and Jarvis Cocker on music. For my cricket-crazy sons, I asked the England batsman Kevin Pietersen, "KP", to talk about life on tour.

We also have some wonderful original illustrations inside the magazine. Alison Jackson (with help from Hillary Clinton) offers her take on the strange world of WikiLeaks. The NS favourite Ralph Steadman is on page 36 and we have given the final page in the book to Harland Miller. I hope you enjoy the issue.

Jemima Khan: @jemima_khan

Jemima Khan is associate editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 11 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Jemima Khan guest edit