Saturday, 4 December 2010

Wikileaks - Journalism or Terrorism?

Wikileaks is a website which will have escaped no one’s knowledge in recent months, but just in case you have been living under a rock or something, here’s the basic jist: Wikileaks is a site where people can anonymously send in whistle blowing tips, and, once verified, these tips will be posted, bringing them into the public domain, without the fear of backlash to the whistleblower

There have been more than 20,000 “leaks” to date, and the man the world has to thank (or not) is Julian Assange, the founder, and webmaster, of the site.

The site has been criticised in recent weeks for releasing files which the US government believe endanger their troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, by leaking confidential military records.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Assange acted recklessly in the publication of some of these communiqués. I won’t deny that.

But in general terms what he was doing was reporting on injustices that the general news media saw fit to keep from you, and which the governments of the world hoped you would never see.

Take this video, which can be found at: .

It portrays a group of Reuters journalists in Baghdad, being fired upon – and killed – by an American helicopter crew who justified the shootings on their radio to command by saying the men were “insurgents”, and “carrying AK-47s”. The video – which just for the record Reuters themselves tried to obtain through a Freedom of Information request which was shut down – clearly shows this entire account to be false. The men both have cameras, but there is no weaponry. These journalists were shot and killed for no reason, leaving 8 men dead, and 2 children seriously injured.

This story, if not told here, would have completely passed by other major outlets, and the US army would have got away with what they did.

Because of Assange, even if no true punishment is brought on the men, the world at large can at least know what they did, and the knowledge of their crime will be the greatest punishment humanity can put upon them.

Now, this view is, surprisingly, not exactly shared by many in Washington.

Over the past few weeks and months, many have spoken out against Wikileaks.

Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, has openly said that “We strongly condemn leaks on American diplomacy. US is taking "aggressive steps" to hold those responsible for release of confidential documents”
, going on to say that “The United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential including private discussions between counterparts or our diplomats’ personal assessments and observations”

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin went one step further, saying that: “[Assange] is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands…Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Yes, if it were up to Palin, the United States of America would be at war with Wikileaks, and Mr Assange would be public enemy number 2, right behind Osama Bin Laden himself.

Well Mrs Palin, and anyone else who holds such narrow minded views, allow me to remind you of one thing: Julian Assange is a journalist. Wikileaks is a media institution. Freedom of the Press is an important human right, and if this was any other, more traditional, media outlet then you’d see that what you’re trying to do is openly censor the press – the first step away from a democratic society and into a totalitarian dictatorship.

As a budding reporter, I cannot help but salute Julian Assange’s bravery, in standing up for what he believes, and risking his liberty to bring real stories to the world, where other journalists would sooner just allow them to slide to save their own jobs.

36 years ago, two journalists broke a story, with the help of a whistleblower, which would go on to bring down the highest office in the land. I am talking of course about Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and their work for the Washington Post in bringing to light the Watergate Scandal, and forcing the resignation of Richard Nixon.

Breaking a story, about people in positions of power, doing bad things. Officials leaking official documents and sources to a member of the press to get these stories out. Does any of this sound familiar? Bernstein and Woodward are two of the most highly respected investigative reporters of all time. And yet for committing the same “crime” (if you can call it that) – Assange is being hunted down.

The corruption of power, and the weakening of the news media in just 35 years, is plain to see.

How can a reporter ever hope to repeat the success of this kind of story, if their alleys of pursuit are automatically shut down by the words “national security”, at every available juncture.

With Assange on the run, and his arrest unfortunately probably imminent, it is up to us, the reporters of the world, to stand behind him. Unite behind his vision – of a world where the truth is told, no matter what the cost – and never back down, even when the powers that be would rather quieten us (especially then even).

Wherever you are Julian, just know that while there are those who seek to destroy you, there are just as many of us out there who truly support your endeavours, and who believe that only through work like yours can we return to a day in which the journalists hold those in power to account, not simply work as their lap dogs.

I will leave you dear readers with a quote from Texan state representative Ron Paul. A man not particularly known for his liberalism, and yet a man who in this instance has hit the nail on the head when it comes to Wikileaks: “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth has become treason, we're in big trouble.”

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