Archive for December, 2010

In defence of a journalist Julian Assange

Hillary Clinton recently made a little joke about WikiLeaks during the Kennedy Center Honors. Clinton said she found it extraordinary to greet so many talented people. She then said: “I am writing a cable about it, which I’m sure you’ll find soon on your closest website.”

At one level the United States leadership is trying to trivialize the Secret US Embassy Cable leak by the whistle blower website WikiLeaks but at another level, living in a pretense, that it has nothing to do with the arrest of WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julain Paul Assange, in London. But I am amazed at the backboneless response of the American and world media against the arrest of Assange. On the contrary the American media is filled with all sorts of stories about Assange. This is the same media houses that had fought for TRPs in the run up to the war in Iraq and Afganistan and had egg on their face when Assange published his story about US involvement in the Wars earlier this year.

Some of the stories that is doing round are really ridiculous and have no relevance to facts about his arrest. The 39 year old Assange, born in Australia, apparently had a ‘sad childhood’ as his mother had an abusive second marriage. She had to run away from her second husband along with his half brother to protect them from abuse and custodial battle. Assange moved  schools through his childhood because of this.

In 1987, after turning 16, Assange began hacking under the name “Mendax” and he and two other hackers called themselves the “International Subversives”. Surprisingly no mention is made that Mendex means “nobly untruthful”. There was also no mention of the fact that Assange wrote down the early rules of the group: “Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information”. And most ridiculous of all is that Assange basically is a “reckless and dangerous” computer hacker and “not a journalist”.

Assange founded the WikiLeaks.org website in 2006 and serves on its advisory board. After Amazon refused to host the WikiLeaks website he set up his server in a wartime bunker in Sweden to broadcast his scoops. Since 2006 Assange has lived a nomadic life, living out of his bag and moving from one country to another.

He has been involved in publishing material about extrajudicial killings in Kenya, for which he won the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award. He has also published material about toxic waste dumping in Africa, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Association influencing policy making decisions of the WHO, insider trading program at JP Morgan, Guantanamo Bay procedures etc. Earlier this year he published Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Diary, classified details about United States involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then, on 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and its five media partners began publishing secret US diplomatic cables.  This sure effected the diplomatic grandstanding that US is used to and US today accuses Assange of jeopardising its national security by releasing a flood of confidential diplomatic documents.

As I write this article Assange has been transferred to the segregation unit of Wandsworth prison, south London, where the authorities are planning to give him limited access to the internet and is awaiting extradition to Sweden in connection with four allegations made by two women – complainants identified as Miss A and Miss W.

The complainants Miss A and Miss W were volunteers who worked with WikiLeaks and there are 4 charges filed against Assange in Swedish Court.

  • The first charge Miss A alleges that she was victim of “unlawful coercion” on the night of August 14 this year in Stockholm.
  • The second charge alleged Assange “sexually molested” Miss A by having sex with her without a condom when it was her “express wish” one should be used.
  • The third charge claimed Assange “deliberately molested” Miss A on August 18 “in a way designed to violate her sexual integrity”.
  • The fourth charge accused Assange of having sex with a second woman, Miss W, on August 17 without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home.

Am sure these are serious charges against Assange. But wait a minute the two volunteers claim that the sex was consensual (not rape) and their charge against him is on the use of condoms. Oh My God so now it is their word against Assange’s on the use of protection during consensual sex.

I believe, journalism must empower and educate, not titillate and trivialize. Having said that I am also not a big fan of “Mendax” Julian Assange but firmly believe he sure has the “nose for news” that journalists are trained for. I am confident every journalist across the globe would have loved get their hands on the WikiLeaks documents and videos.

Few things that still beats me how is it that a team of 5 and few volunteers have managed to release to the public domain more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined. And also why US, the unipolar super power, which boasts of being in the leadership position of the Free World, should hunt down someone who has released information, though classified, when you, as a country could not protect it in the first place.

Photo: Courtesy Getty Images

Recommended Video : http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_assange_why_the_world_needs_wikileaks.html

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