Why Wikileaks has changed journalism forever

December 8, 2010 · 7 comments

in Articles,journalism

It is becoming clearer day by day that the Wikileaks saga has changed journalism and citizen’s relationship with government forever. This is not about some temporary embarrassment to governments and their leaders but a sea change in the way we are ruled and the information we are entitled to expect about how decisions about our future are made.

Journalists have always known in their heart of hearts that their reporting on government has only been half the story. How to get the other half? How to sort out the truth from the propaganda? How to learn what is really going on—as distinct from what our leaders tell us is going on. Julian Assange and the whistle-blowers who have provided his organization with its sensational material have answered this.

Naturally, governments are not pleased. Assange is in jail in Britain over what looks like a very weak case—suspicion of rape in Sweden earlier this year. He has been labeled “a criminal” for facilitating the release of the secret documents, although no one can say what crime he has committed. The US authorities continue to do their best to close down the Wikileaks websites. Many of its bank accounts have been frozen. The more extreme elements on the American political scene have called for Assange to be kidnapped and “rendered” to the USA for trial, or failing that, for him to be assassinated.

But Wikileaks has them all over a barrel. It did not steal the documents; one or more whisteblowers did. All Wikileaks did was to publish them. So did the New York Times and thousands of other newspapers throughout the world. And freedom to publish material, secret or not, offensive or not, is enshrined in the American Constitution and has been confirmed by the US Supreme Court case of Near v Minnesota, 1931.

The government of Minnesota had banned publisher Jay Near’s anti-semitic, bigoted, racist, scandal-ridden sensationalist newspaper. The American Civil Liberties Union appealed on his behalf to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that freedom of speech was absolute. The Court agreed 5-4. Chief Justice Charles Hughes summed it up brilliantly: “The rights of the best of men are secured only as the rights of vilest and most abhorrent are protected.”

As for those who have argued that the Wikileaks material has destroyed the diplomatic process and that for diplomacy to function there must be some things kept secret, have they forgotten President Woodrow Wilson, who made “open diplomacy” number point of his famous 14 points in 1918.

“Diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view”, was Wilson’s argument and he would certainly have approved of Wikileaks actions, in contrast the current US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has called them “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests” and on “the international community”—though she failed to specify which community members were the victims, or of what they were the victims.

There has been some criticism of the media for concentrating on the more scandalous side of the revelations rather than on the terrible injustices revealed, such as that inflicted upon Khalid El-Masri. A German citizen, he was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia, taken to Morocco by CIA agents tortured there and later in Afghanistan on behalf of the US government.

The Americans eventually realized that he was who he had always said he was, a victim of mistaken identity. They were reluctant to release him, despite orders to do so from the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, because “he knew too much”. He was eventually dumped by the roadside in Albania.

Back in Germany he complained to the German authorities who issued criminal proceedings against the CIA officers responsible for his kidnapping, imprisonment and torture. The Wikileaks documents reveal that the US embassy in Berlin pressed the German government to block the proceedings because the outcome could have “a negative impact on bilateral arrangements”. The German government acceded to the request.

If that is the way that international diplomacy functions, then the sooner all is revealed the better. Unless the US Government succeeds in shutting down Wikileaks—and I do not think liberal America would stand for this—then Assange and his organization has a lot more suprises in store for us.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

bengtisa December 18, 2010 at 4:50 am

Without doubt Wikileaks clearly demonstrates a generic bias against the US Governemnt. The US Governemnt along with its allies are saints. Most but not all of the released ‘revelations’ are known public knowledge anyway. However the means for citizens to acquire open government is called democracy. Wilson would not have approved Wikileaks actions because Wilson was referring to an open democratic process applied in diplomacy not some complicity in the stealing of confidential documents. A bit like P2P sites sharing copyrighted material. The downloader is just as responsible as the uploader so stuff the copyright owner. Nor some headline venture that helps journalists and editors sell newspapers. Might our 15 minutes of fame hero Assange should balance his activities and steal Chinese or Indian and other unsavoury regimes’ cables for breakfast viewing. I think not. But then very serious and widespread Government sanctioned human rights abuses are public knowledge in such places. The headline just might make page 3. Wikileaks won’t change matters for reporters because it’s disclosures are history, not breaking news. Whistlebowing yes, but not from hiding behind anonymous digital firewalls. Watergate brought down Nixon, but secretive Wikileaks probably won’t do the same for the current President.

Kenneth N. Baker December 18, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Why has Mr. Assange not published anything about China, Russia? He and supporters focus only on the USA which leads me to question the intention of the Wikileaks and the people in Great Britian and Australia who support his efforts. As for China and Russia, they do terminate people, which is why the brave Mr. Assange focuses his efforts on easier targets, USA.

jake January 7, 2011 at 11:57 pm

you seem confused as to what ‘leaks’ means – assange didn’t release chinese documents because chinese documents were not leaked to him. he is not a ‘hacker’ (even if that meant what you think it does), he didn’t ‘steal’ the information; it was given to him, and he published it, after first offering the US government the opportunity to redact ‘sensitive’ information. and the cables do not come solely from american diplomats, but have gone through US diplomatic channels, which was what allowed the american whistleblower (maybe manning, maybe one of the 2, 999, 999 other people who had access – stamping ‘secret’ on something does not a security system make) to access them. grow up and stop crying about things you don’t understand. goddamn hyper developed amygdala’d ‘conservatives’ – how your forebearers would spin in their graves at your annexation of that term.

bob pippin February 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Truth must be evermore accessable to one and all everywhere; when it is so accessable such conduct as has been reported about those who wish to keep truth a secret know by them and them alone will never happen in the first place.

May God as well as humanity bless those who seek to tell the truth about anything and/or everything.

IAN PAYNE July 21, 2011 at 8:24 am

One persons truth is another propoganda whether it is wiki-leaks or any other media outlet !!

Chris Beale July 3, 2012 at 11:48 am

Good point, Kenneth N. Baker – perhaps Bradley Manning was unable to download much about China or Russia ? Anyhow, WikiLeaks HAS published a LOT about Thailand, which does n’t get much coverage in the world’s mainstream media, eg. : the dissolving of the pro-Thaksin PPP and two other parties in December 2008 and banning of executives of each party. The dissolution happened so quickly with the court restricting testimony from the defense and holding the final hearing in the morning and writing the judgment in less than an hour delivering that afternoon. This directly led to the downfall of the PPP-led government as it allowed Newin and MPs in his faction to leave the Thaksin fold (as they were no longer PPP MPs as PPP had been dissolved, they could legally join a new party without restrictions which wouldn’t have been possible without the dissolution). This decision was the actual judicial coup – a coup requires the removal or effective removal from power. The fix was clearly known as a Wikileaks cable entitled “THAI PRIME MINISTER SOMCHAI DISREGARDS ARMY COMMANDER’S SUGGESTION HE RESIGN” (08BANGKOK3143) dated October 17, 2008 showed. The key paragraph is:

6. (C) Anuporn Kashemsant, a foreign liaison officer for the Queen in the Principal Private Secretary’s office, remarked to us October 17 that various political maneuvers were ongoing. He said ”a coup like what happened September 19, 2006 is not one of the options” for resolving Thailand’s political crisis, because the military had proven it was incapable of running the country. His qualification evoked the remark of former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun on October 16 (ref A) to Charge that there would not be ”a coup in the traditional sense of the word.” Anuporn hinted that significant developments likely would take place in the coming days, but refused to predict what might occur, beyond saying there were two possible paths forward.

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