The divisiveness of WikiLeaks

Journalism confuses me to no end, and the Julian Assange arrest exacerbates the debate of what is journalism. For clarity I am a mature student studying journalism, I have recently deferred my final year because of personal reasons. I’ve only taken an interest in journalism over the last five years or so.

A question always put to us,  from lecturers to guest speakers is ‘what is journalism?’, there is always an array of answers from ‘journalism holds governments to account’ to ‘ journalist’s are gatekeepers of information’ it is always some noble ideal, which is a nice sentiment. I would describe journalism as a gun, it is a weapon that can defend and it is a weapon that can be used to attack. The best two examples of the power of journalism is the Watergate scandal, and the role of journalism’s in the build up to the Iraq war post 9/11.

Journalism is both a god sent and a death sentence.

Mr. Assange is a divisive figure in the world of journalism, his methods have divided options on what the role of a journalist is, and thus his recent ousting from the Ecuadorian embassy has caused quite the stir. Mr. Assange is an Australian journalist, computer programmer and the founder and director of WikiLeaks. He is an advocate of information transparency and market libertarianism.

Mr. Assange founded WikiLeaks in 2006, an international publishing organisation known for revealing war crimes, human rights abuses, and corruption. WikiLeaks came to international attention in 2010 when it published a series of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning.  These leaks included the Collateral Murder video (April 2010), the Afghanistan war logs (July 2010), the Iraq war logs (October 2010), and Cable Gate (November 2010).

When Wikileaks first realised the ‘Collateral Murder’ footage from a 2007 Baghdad airstrike to Wikileaks role in the 2016 American presidential election the role of Wikileaks and Mr. Assange has always been in question.  Whistle blowing is always frowned upon.  WikiLeaks infuriated the world’s greatest superpower and helped cause a revolution in Africa.

Here are some examples of the debates that WikiLeaks caused

According to Wikipedia:

“WikiLeaks has drawn criticism for its absence of whistleblowing on or criticism of Russia, and for criticising the Panama Papers’ exposé of businesses and individuals with offshore bank accounts. WikiLeaks has also been criticised for inadequately curating its content and violating the personal privacy of individuals. WikiLeaks has, for instance, revealed Social Security numbers, medical information, credit card numbers and details of suicide attempts”.

Media critic Zeynep Tufekci wrote an article for the Huffington Post called:WikiLeaks Put Women in Turkey in Danger, for No Reason. In it Tufekci discusses what WikiLeaks did was ‘an act that was irresponsible, of no public interest and of potential danger to millions of ordinary, innocent people, especially millions of women in Turkey’.

Alan Rusbridger wrote that some people saw “Assange as new media messiah and to others, Assange was a cyber-terrorist”.

Slate’s media columnist, Jack Shafer, wrote:

“Assange bedevils the journalists who work with him because he refuses to conform to any of the roles they expect him to play. He acts like a leaking source when it suits him. He masquerades as publisher or newspaper syndicate when that’s advantageous. Like a PR agent, he manipulates news organisations to maximise publicity for his ‘clients’, or, when moved to, he threatens to throw info-bombs like an agent provocateur. He’s a wily shape-shifter who won’t sit still, an unpredictable negotiator who is forever changing the terms of the deal.”

Mr. Assange is not liked by journalist’s, which is strange considering that he would be in my mind what a journalist would act like. A journalist is seen as someone who wants to take on the injustices of the world. After reading the Columbia Journalism Reviews article called The Story Behind the Publication of WikiLeaks’s Afghanistan Logs it become clear how unliked the whole arrangement with WikiLeaks, and how unpopular Mr. Assange was, no wonder he stopped trusting journalist’s after dealing with them. Here is an extract from the article:

The WikiLeaks website speaks of the three outlets as its “media partners.” The Guardian wasn’t the only newspaper to work with WikiLeaks. To assist in publishing the first two batches of documents—on the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq—WikiLeaks brought in two other parties, The New York Times and the German news weekly Der Spiegel. Eventually the group was expanded to include television: CNN, Al Jazeera, and Britain’s Channel 4. For the third batch of documents—the diplomatic cables—WikiLeaks worked with five print publications in collaboration….

Eric Schmitt describes working with Assange as follows:

“I’ve seen Julian Assange in the last couple of day’s kind of flouncing around talking about this collaboration like the four of us were working all this together,” says Schmitt. ”But we were not in any kind of partnership or collaboration with him. This was a source relationship. He’s making it sound like this was some sort of journalistic enterprise between WikiLeaks, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel, and that’s not what it was.”

“He was in and out,” says Schmitt. “He’d come and you’d ask him questions about certain types of data, and certain questions—some of them he answered and some of them he didn’t. Where did you get this material? He wouldn’t answer that. Did it come from Bradley Manning? He didn’t answer that. What else may be coming? He’d be very coy about these things.”

It is clear there are those who don’t like him because he represents the worst of journalism, but it is clear Wikileaks and Assange also represent the best of journalism   Consequently, Mr. Assange’s arrest and pending charges will have an effect on the world of journalism again.

Mr Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy shortly after the UK’s Supreme Court ruled in May 2012 that he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over claims of rape and sexual assault. Those claims related to encounters he had with two women in Sweden in 2010.

Investigations into some of the claims were dropped in 2015 while the rape investigation was discontinued in May 2017, when Swedish prosecutors also withdrew their European Arrest Warrant. An indictment — filed under seal in March 2018 — refers to WikiLeaks’ role in publishing tens of thousands of classified US documents related to military activity in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as 800 assessments of detainees at Guantánamo Bay and 250,000 US state department cables.

Mr. Assange faces up to 12 months in a British prison for skipping bail seven years ago after a warrant issued by Westminster Magistrates’ Court over his decision not to surrender to the court for extradition to Sweden in 2012.

Mr. Assange’s seven-year stay in the Ecuadorean embassy in London ended when the co-founder of WikiLeaks was forcibly removed from the diplomatic mission by British police at the invitation of his hosts. WikiLeaks started as a noble idea, if this wasn’t the case no journalist would have touched what WikiLeaks had to offer. So why is it now that journalist’s and journalism is turning its back on WikiLeaks? Because what ever happen to them from now will have an effect on journalism later on.

Categories: Journalism, Thoughts on journalism

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