WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has banned journalists with the popular defense daily Stars and Stripes from consulting leaked diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, prompting charges of censorship.

"The editorial independence of Stars and Stripes and its readers' right to news free of censorship are being threatened by an overly broad and misdirected response to the Wikileaks debacle," the daily wrote.

"Amazingly, the government wants to bar this newspaper's journalists -- along with most federal workers -- from reading information already plastered all over the public square."

In the article, the daily's ombudsman Mark Prendergast revealed that the Pentagon communications department had advised that "access to any classified information hosted on non-DoD systems from any government-owned system is expressly prohibited" even if it was now in the public arena.

Although Stars and Stripes is officially authorized by the Pentagon it is editorially independent and its journalists are guaranteed the right of freedom of expression contained in the US Constitution.

Established in World War II, the magazine has some 420,000 readers and is widely read by serving members of the armed forces deployed abroad. There are four daily editions in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and South Korea.

"I am no lawyer, but even if secrets in wide circulation remain 'classified' by legal definition, it simply cannot be held that information disseminated on a global scale a la Wikileaks is somehow not in the 'public domain.' That defies reality," Prendergast wrote in his opinion piece.

Stars and Stripes journalists may however continue to consult the websites of those dailies which have published the US diplomatic cables, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

This week, the Air Force blocked all connections from its computers to the Internet sites of 25 media organizations that have published the leaked cables.

The move meant computers used by Air Force employees could not access newsites, including the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Speigel, that have posted the cables online, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told AFP.

The Air Force took the action because classified information was posted on those websites, he said.

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