The Future of WikiLeaks & Free Speech

The world has been on the crazy ride that has been the WikiLeaks saga for a while now, and at times it seems like it’s not slowing down any time soon.  However, often the media blurs the achievements made by WikiLeaks and it’s important to stop and recognise the impact of WikiLeaks, and consider what may lie in the future for WikiLeaks; such as whether or not the organisation will be viable to continue, and will there be anyone to continue its leaking legacy?

Of course, WikiLeaks firstly brought us that infamous and controversial video, ‘Collateral Murder’, exposing a side of war the world had not previously seen, and in turn creating a public outcry for long forgotten concepts such as government transparency, freedom of information, an end to secrecy, as well as seriously questioning our involvement in war & conflict in the Middle East.

An editorial from the Guardian of October 2009 had this to say on WikiLeaks, “A brown paper envelope for the digital age, Wikileaks.org is now home to more than 1m documents that governments and big business would rather the public did not see. The site – similar to Wikipedia in style, but otherwise independent of it – serves as an uncensorable and untraceable depository for the truth, able to publish documents that the courts may prevent newspapers and broadcasters from being able to touch.”

However, since then, WikiLeaks has largely received negative coverage, mostly from western media, and in particular, the U.S. government.

Hillary Clinton said this in regards to the actions of WikiLeaks, “this disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests, it is an attack on the international community.”

Indeed, all of this coverage on the wrong doing of the actions of WikiLeaks was at times pushed aside by controversy surrounding editor-in-chief Julian Assange, as well as politicians and documentaries that aim to disregard achievements by WikiLeaks and portray the individuals concerned as hackers and criminals.  However, there are many within the blogosphere that have recognized the achievements by WikiLeaks that often the mainstream media fail to point out, such as Rania Khalek’s post here, that lists the corporate corruption within the U.S.

The rise of WikiLeaks also arguably brought back the power of hard-hitting journalism, even winning the most important journalism award in Australia, The Walkley Foundation’s “Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism Contribution to Journalism”.

The Walkley Awards are the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzers: that nation’s most prestigious award for excellence in journalism. Last night, the Walkley Foundation awarded its highest distinction — for “Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism” for “courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency.”

Some have even argued that WikiLeaks has paved the way for a new form of journalism, a media middleman.  As Mathew Ingram points out in his post, “Do newspapers and other media need WikiLeaks?”

But with WikiLeaks future potentially in jeopoardy, with the major credit card companies in the world financially blockading it, and editor in chief stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy, what does that mean for the fight for freedom of speech and information?

Logos of several new imitation WikiLeaks sites that hope to benefit from media attention on Assange’s organisation. Image courtesy Al Jazeera.

A number of copycat organisations have sprung up recently globally, in an attempt to replicate WikiLeaks’ work.  A notable example includes IndoLeaks, which in December of 2011 it began releasing documents, in particular autopsy reports that question details over the coup attempt in 1965.

However, arguably the most successful Wikileaks copycat includes BalkanLeaks, founded by Atanas Tchobanov in Bulgaria that uses the same format as WikiLeaks, accepting and releasing anonymously submitted documents.  In this case, the dirty laundry of the Bulgarian finance industry are the secrets being leaked, and ironically, much like their successor, it seems that BalkanLeaks will also be financially blockaded and halted in their tracks, for what the Bulgarian banks are saying is, “false information and circumstances”.

However these are not the only copycat organisations inspired by WikiLeaks, in fact there are many more, as compiled here, including: BaltiLeaks, BritiLeaks, BrusselsLeaks, Corporate Leaks, CrowdLeaks, EnviroLeaks, FrenchLeaks, GlobaLeaks, Indoleaks, IrishLeaks, IsraeliLeaks, Jumbo Leaks, KHLeaks, LeakyMails, Localeaks, MapleLeaks, MurdochLeaks, Office Leaks, Porn WikiLeaks, PinoyLeaks, PirateLeaks, QuebecLeaks, RuLeaks, ScienceLeaks, TradeLeaks, and UniLeaks.

Although the editor in chief of WikiLeaks Julian Assange told Forbes he doesn’t necessarily condone the creation of copycat organisations due their danger, he is glad that WikiLeaks is now no longer the only whistle blower organisation,  “There have been a few over time, and they’ve been very dangerous. It’s not something that’s easy to do right. That’s the problem.”

“The supply of leaks is very large,” Assange said.  “It’s helpful for us to have more people in this industry.”

Philosophy student at the University of Wollongong, Joseph Parkes, on the question, ‘Do you believe that WikiLeaks has made a positive impact on society? And do you believe this impact will last when the specific organisation itself is no longer running?’ had this to say,

“Yes, I do. Ever since the time of the French revolution, whence the nobles noticed the presence of a power outside the normal 3 estates, which was known as the fourth estate, or more colloquially, the media. Ever since this point in time, the media has been the source of information between the ruling classes/parties and those who don’t care (e.g. commoners). WikiLeaks is one of these organizations, and as part of their role in the fourth estate is to bring to light information that is held in secret “for the greater good” into the light. For this, many governments all over the world have had to be more forthwith with their information, or else they would see as being distrustful in their rule of the nation. As Machiavelli puts it, ‘the only thing worse than distrust is death itself’, and as such has been avoided. However, some nations such as the US have not been, and been openly criticised for doing so. The impact will last well beyond this organization’s cessation, as this infiltration is one that has been seen before, but not on this scale. I think there was one thing about the Watergate, which had this same principle in idea. WikiLeaks and Mr Assange have taken this principle of the freedom of media to a new level, and thus shall not be forgotten now or in the future.”

The specific organisation of WikiLeaks may not be viable to continue, and may indeed have its faults, but they have started the movement for future organisations, and will go down in history as one of the greatest whistle blower websites that shocked the world with its footage, and revived the age old concepts of government transparency, freedom of speech, freedom of information and truth.

 

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The rise of #slacktivism

                 Wikileaks Van. Image Courtesy Chris Wieland via Flickr.

The rise of social media activism has gradually risen thought out the past few years, and was particularly noticeable in the 2011 Arab Spring, in which Twitter and Facebook were largely the tools used by citizens to communicate and organise protests.  Social movements/groups such as WikiLeaks, Anonymous & Occupy Wall Street have been accredited with making such movements possible, and encouraging ordinary citizens to participate in revolutions using social media, reviving the old protest concept.  However, many are starting to question the type of ‘activism’ that WikiLeaks and other activist groups are creating.  Some people are beginning to argue that this increased awareness of social/political issues on social media is creating what is known as slack participation, or ‘slacktivism’.

Wikileaks stop govt lies, abuse. Image courtesy avlxyz via Flickr.

‘Slacktivism’ refers to the act of supporting a cause without actually contributing to it in any way that makes a difference, making it a highly lazy way to contribute.  Activities that are considered to be ‘slackivist’ in nature include signing online petitions, and forwarding emails about an issue to everyone an individual knows.   For example, people who press ‘like’ on a Facebook page about a particular cause may think that they are significantly contributing to the cause when in fact, this does very little. A further example includes the entire KONY2012 campaign by Invisible Children, which involved people watching a 20-minute video and then afterwards finding themselves enlightened with a new sense of renewed social justice.  This instead leaves an individual feeling satisfied and often self-righteous, when nothing major has been achieved.   The motivation for change is simply not there, or it is redirected into areas that make little difference.

Arguably three of the most important social movements/groups of the past few years include WikiLeaks, Anonymous & Occupy Wall Street, who all share

Free WikiLeaks Buenos Aires. Image courtesy Manuchis via Flickr.

similarities amongst each other including their main causes, that include standing up and speaking out against oppressive governments and corruption.  The three have been known to give support to the other, and all even share the same symbol, being the Guy Fawkes mask from the film V for Vendetta, a metaphor for both anonymity and resistance.  While Occupy Wall Street was significant in terms of its practical protest, many argue that WikiLeaks and Anonymous create or encourage slacktivism due to their emphasis on online activities.  Furthermore, the public fighting between both WikiLeaks and Anonymous, leading to Anonymous turning its back on WikiLeaks and allegedly creating its own WikiLeaks clone called TYLER, has led to further disillusionment.

A further problem as the result of the rise of popularity of these groups such as WikiLeaks and the consequent rise of social/cyber activism includes quality control.  Citizen journalism increased has in turn increased in popularity due to the empowerment of the everyday citizen brought by technology and these social media revolutions.  While this does capture significant events that news crews wouldn’t normally get to, and unique opinions that aren’t normally given coverage, this eliminates the ability to understand if the source is credible.  The entire concept of gatekeepers has been removed. The Grassroots level is indeed important in revolutions, but sometimes can hinder rather than help.

However, others believe that social media activism is indeed a highly positive and beneficial concept and that it will soon be potentially the main or only form of social activism.  Others have also called to stop the demonization of the term ‘slacktivism’, at its worst, it encourages participation in a cause that may or may not lead to offline participation.

Wikileaks Truck at The New York Times. Image courtesy Wikileaks Mobile Information Collection Unit via Flickr.

In a study by Simon Lindgren and Ragnar Lundström in 2011 entitled ‘Pirate culture and hacktivist mobilization: The cultural and social protocols of #Wikileaks on Twitter’ analysed the hash tag of WikiLeaks on twitter, it found that tweets in relation to Wikileaks on this website were used for _ reasons including linking others to news stories, asking for donations, quoting political and philosophical slogans to justify free speech, descriptions of the ‘enemy’ or ‘opposition’ and the discussion of future Wikileaks releases.  This suggests that there is a sense of participation evident within the issue of Wikileaks.

The sense of protest and revolution has not been deadened by the Internet, in fact some argue the Internet has nothing to do with it.  Blogger Jillian York in her post, ‘Not Twitter, Not Wikileaks: A Human Revolution’, argues that the Internet and social media do not cause revolutions, but rather help, “But to call this a “Twitter revolution” or even a “WikiLeaks revolution” demonstrates that we haven’t learned anything from past experiences in Moldova and Iran.  Evgeny Morozov’s question–”Would this revolution have happened if there were no Facebook and Twitter?”–says it all.  And in this case, yes, I–like most Tunisians to whom I’ve posed this question–believe that this would have happened without the Internet.”

Indeed, the old form of protest, the kind where you leave the house, still occur.  On Saturday October 6, a rally was held for Julian Assange at Sydney Town Hall.  This was one of the many that occurred around Australia during this year.  Many supporters also camped outside the Ecuadorian Embassy for days, and would attempt to trick authorities holding up signs that stated “I’m Julian Assange” whilst Assange was awaiting his asylum status. Below follows a video documenting the speeches at this rally.

It can be said that while slacktivism does have the potential to occur within the revolutions and movements brought about by WikiLeaks and associated groups, it is also important to remember that social media has a strong part to play in the modern day protest, but at the end of the day, it is largely still the human revolution, brought about by the empowerment of the individual from oppressive forces, which of course is the main aim of WikiLeaks.

Badmouthing the Messenger, Another Australian Citizen Abandoned

There have been many negative things said about WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange, except apparently nothing as damaging as the Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s words.

In a radio interview she gave in 2010, she insisted that Assange had broken the law with the release of the thousands of U.S diplomatic cables by his organization, WikiLeaks.  In response to this, Assange has stated that he will be suing the prime minister for defamation, claiming that his actions are not illegal and that these words are indeed damning to both his cause and reputation.

“We are considering suing for defamation so I have hired lawyers in Sydney and they are investigating the different ways in which we can sue Gillard over this statement,” Assange said.

“Mastercard Australia in justifying why it has made a blockade that prevents any Australian Mastercard holder from donating to WikiLeaks, used that statement by Julia Gillard this year as justification.”
Indeed, since these words by the Prime Minister, a financial blockade has been placed over WikiLeaks, not allowing any more donations from donators.  This in turn has led to WikiLeaks placing a donation overlay page over where it keeps its Global Intelligence Files, and many more.  This overlay page can only be removed when a donation is made.  This has made many supporters angry, including, notably, what is often named as a WikiLeaks friend, partner, or protector, Anonymous, a hacktivist organisation.

Ironically, it was Julie Bishop, the right-wing Deputy Opposition Leader, that jumped to defend Assange and WikiLeaks after Gillard’s remarks were made, telling Sky News “I’m not aware of any law that Julian Assange has broken in Australia”.  This is highly peculiar, as WikiLeaks is largely referred to as a left-wing cause.

 

Image courtesy Marshall24 via Flickr

Assumedly, the reason why Gillard has chosen to write off Assange’s actions as illegal is because Australia doesn’t want to upset its political relations with the U.S, as they are largely the ones running this Wikileaks saga, desperately wanting to charge Assange for espionage or as others have stated publicly, have him assassinated.  It was made quite clear by Assange in his speech from the Ecuadorian Embassy balcony that he knew this, asking the U.S. directly to stop the “witch hunt” against WikiLeaks, and condemning his home country’s lack of support for him.

Has perhaps the Australian government been too harsh on Assange, abandoning their own citizen, when it can be argued his only crime is trying to reveal the crimes of others?   Why are we so willing to abandon our citizens?  For example, Australian citizen David Hicks was held in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp from 2001 until 2007 for allegedly providing material support for terrorism, and claims to have been tortured by the U.S. military.  However, Hick’s character arguably isn’t as morally courageous as Assange’s is, but even he had more support from the government/public, being released from Guantanamo Bay after extreme pressure.  Hicks even scored a book deal detailing his ordeal.
Hicks even spoke out for Assange recently, seemingly having something in common with him, as the video below details.

While the government may not be behind Assange, there are other forces within Australia that are.  Activisit organization GetUp!’s current campaign entitled ‘Protect Free Speech’, includes a recent exclusive interview with Assange himself, and includes an online petition to Bob Carr that asks for, “the Australian Government to stand up for the rights of all Australian citizens, and not allow Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States. “

Mary Kostakidis, a GetUp! member, in a recent interview had this to say on Assange’s treatment, “I am greatly disturbed by what’s happening to Julian Assange. It overturns centuries of historic and legal precedent protecting freedom of the press, and exposes journalists around the world to the vengeance and tyranny of governments anywhere.”

However, while some lawyers believe that Assange’s threat to sue Gillard is simply a political stunt, as usual, the world will have to wait and see what happens next within the WikiLeaks saga.

The Megaspectacle of WikiLeaks

The saga of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange has seemed to take a life of it’s own.  The media has surrounded and jumped on the story like vultures on a dying animal.  New developments surrounding the issue are made the front-page story, and large opinion pieces are dedicated to the topic.  There are now activist groups, and regular protest movements for the cause.  Everyone has to have a say on the issue, either you love the mysterious blonde figure of Assange and think he is a modern day hero and that a great injustice is being done to him by the bully western governments; or you hate the man, wanting the smug hacker to spend the rest of his life in prison to pay for his crimes.

This issue has all the elements to make it into a megaspectacle, “political extravaganzas that characterize a certain period”, as defined by philosopher Douglas Kellner.  This saga involves conspiracy theories, powerful governments, controversial secret files, figures with mysterious backgrounds, sex scandals, court cases that extend across international borders, war & conflict, wrongful imprisonment and so many more elements that can make the issue appear at times like a television show, a little over the top and unreal sometimes.  It can indeed be said that this story is often sensationalized, the details often brought to us in a dramatized and entertaining manner, emphasizing certain elements and leaving out other parts.

For example, recently, the highly famous pop-star Lady Gaga visited Assange in his room within the Ecuadorian embassy to have dinner.  Because Gaga is an elite individual, this became front-page news, even though no new important developments had occurred in relation to WikiLeaks or Assange.   After dinner, the two then posed for a photo together before Gaga left.  This image of these two together was highly important and powerful, and arguably encouraged a lot more individuals to pay attention to the issue, but will they keep paying attention when there isn’t constant drama to follow?  And will they be paying attention for the right reasons?  Do they care

An unverified photograph of Lady Gaga and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Image courtesy Gagadaily.com via Supplied

about Assange’s cause, or are they simply excited by the story?  One website’s reporting on the story practiced high quality journalism in the comment, “Dressed in black and wearing a witches hat, she posed with a beaming Assange with the images posted immediately on the web. Assange had a stain on his shirt.”

In a further bizarre twist to the story, Assange himself has evolved into somewhat of a sex symbol for many.  The Julian Assange tag on the Internet, particularly through social media will largely find posts detailing the attractiveness of the man himself behind the controversial WikiLeaks.  Blog posts such as “Julian Assange Makes Me Go Wiki in the Knees” are not uncommon, and even blogs dedicated to him have sprung up, such as http://julianassangeisgorgeous.tumblr.com.

A telemovie about the mysterious figure and his past entitled ‘Underground’ was even made and broadcast on channel 10 this October, due to the growing popularity of the story.  This telemovie reportedly received up to 1.34 million views on its premiere night.  However, the director Robert Connolly has been accused of changing and making up of events, but to the audience of 1.34 million, this hardly matters.

This is where the line begin entertainment and real life begin to blur, and the megaspectacle of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange begin to takeover from the real issues within the story, that are slowly getting smothered by the media circus.

Jessica Zuzic, Psychology student at the University of Wollongong, in regards to the issue said this, “The media is required to be drawn to only the ‘exciting’ parts of a story, those parts that will sell the most papers or attract the most views on a webpage.  Consequently, the media circus is largely responsible for branding the issue of WikiLeaks as an entertainment and action packed story, emphasizing what small insignificant events actually occur and leaving out the actual important so called ‘boring’ parts, as people are either not interested or do not understand these technical sides to the story.  The emotional/entertainment sides to the story are more thrilling than ideological concepts.”

It is perhaps the irony of the topic that also makes the reporting of this story within the media interesting, are people being given all the information?   Are people protesting the important issues here?  Or are they instead getting all wound up in the drama and interfering with real life legal processes and not informed of the whole story?

It is indeed up to the individual to look past the skewed angle that the media provides on WikiLeaks and Assange, and turn to other sources of information that will be more likely to produce beneficial and intellectual discussion.

The Video to Rule them All

WikiLeaks.  Julian Assange.  We’ve all heard the names countless times, often spoken in an angry tone by frustrated and frightened politicians.  As the result of perhaps misdirected coverage, the very mention of either WikiLeaks or Assange conjures up images in our minds of war, fierce political debates, and a mysterious platinum blonde figure that started it all.

The saga of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower organization, created by Australian computer hacker Julian Assange in 2006 to leak highly classified war documents and logs, has turned into a megaspectacle, complete with all the elements that one would see in a thriller novel or movie; with strange plot twists and odd looking characters, and the apparent clearly defined good and bad guys.  However, to make sense of it all, this post is going back to the start, and examining the WikiLeaks saga from the very point where the issue exploded – the release of the highly controversial video ‘Collateral Murder’, and discuss whether the reaction by various groups would be how the whistle-blower website intended them to react, or if we as a society missed the point completely.

Arguably, the world was naïve about the secrecy in which governments acted, until WikiLeaks in 2010 released the controversial video ‘Collateral Murder’.  The reason this video was so shocking, and why western governments, particularly the US, wanted it taken down and the person responsible for its release locked up, is because it depicts the side of war that citizens don’t see, and also depicts, god forbid, the US, or the so called good guys, being in the wrong.

The video shows US soldiers within a helicopter choosing to casually and in an inconsiderate manner; begin shooting at civilians on the ground in New Baghdad, including two members of a news team, whose cameras were incorrectly identified as weapons.  Two children were also harmed in this attack.

While the images within this video are deeply disturbing, what is arguably most horrific is the dialogue by a pilot, who after learning that a girl was injured, only replied with, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle.”

The release of Collateral Murder led to the condemning of WikiLeaks, with blogger Steven Aftergood stating that it “does not respect the rule of law nor does it honor the rights of individuals.”

Image courtesy savebradley via Flickr

However, both WikiLeaks and Assange were only the messengers.  Private Bradley Manning, currently in jail in Kuwait without trial, allegedly gave this video to WikiLeaks, but the circulation of this video has led to a witch-hunt focusing on WikiLeaks and Assange.  Many activist groups have diverted their attention to supporting Assange, and are more than eager to write of the guilt and the sometimes atrocious acts committed by the United States.   While this is indeed surely what WikiLeaks partly intended to happen, has the point been missed slightly?

At the time of this post, Bradley Manning has spent 878 days in jail without a trial, however this gets far less coverage than both WikiLeaks and Assange.

In regards to the video that started it all, WikiLeaks had this to say, “WikiLeaks wants to ensure that all the leaked information it receives gets the attention it deserves.  In this particular case, some of the people killed were journalists that were simply doing their jobs: putting their lives at risk in order to report on war.  Iraq is a very dangerous place for journalists: from 2003-2009, 139 journalists were killed while doing their work.”

Media student at the University of Wollongong, Paris Bridge had this to say on the issue, “Although the video (Collateral Murder) is highly gruesome and rather shocking, it’s definitely something that needed to be showed to the world.  I don’t see anything major wrong with what they did.  If it in anyway contributes to the potential end of suffering to some individuals lives, or provides some closure to victims, doesn’t that overturn anything illegal that they might have committed?”

Somewhere along the way, the main points that should have been discussed within the media surrounding the release of Collateral Murder became lost, and instead of discussing such issues including government transparency, secrecy, and the questioning of western countries involvement and purpose in war & conflict, the media chose to instead focus on other parts of the saga, mostly the more drama-filled elements, consequently leaving out the perhaps more noble principles, arguably less important to cover as they won’t make front page stories.

A website dedicated to supporting Bradley Manning has been set up at www.bradleymanning.org if one wishes to seek further information on this topic.

The Nomadic Crusader – Profile on Julian Assange

The life of WikiLeaks editor-in-Chief Julian Assange has never been normal.  Even from a young age, the Australian computer hacker led a nomadic life with his mother Christine.  Assange’s childhood largely consisted of hopping states and schools in secrecy, in what would serve as a platform of preparation for the soon to be hacker.   However, nothing could prepare Assange for what would eventually arise; becoming one of the most wanted people in the world for his organization’s release of classified war logs and documents.

Assange was born in Townsville, Queensland, Australia on the 3rd July 1971, to Christine Assange and John Shipton, the latter whom Assange was estranged from until he was 25.   Assange’s life on the move began during his mother’s second marriage to Richard Brett Assange in 1972, when the family began a touring theatre company.  Things took an even more peculiar path in 1979, when Assange’s mother re-married to Leif Hamilton, whom reportedly had connections to the cult ‘The Family’, infamous for the abduction of children.  The couple had a son, however the marriage didn’t last, causing a bitter custody battle, resulting in the pair travelling around Australia, this time on the run.
Early on Assange became used to an alternative lifestyle, where he reportedly had no access to television, collected a variety of animals, and was homeschooled by his mother, who was a social activist herself, and encouraged within Julian the sense of protest and rebellion.

In Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography, Assange is quoted, “I consider myself lucky to have been born to curious people who filled the air around me with questions.”

”My first word was ‘Why?’ It was also my favourite.”

This desire for knowledge manifested itself in the International Subversives, which Assange formed with two others in the early 1990’s.  Computer systems from The Australian National University, and the US military’s secret defence data network, MILNET, were breached by this group.  However, Assange imposed strict rules including, “Don’t damage computer systems you break into; don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information.”  The screen name Mendax, meaning “nobly untruthful”, was adopted by Assange, demonstrating his well-grounded principles that echo strongly several years on.
Peter Graham, school friend of Assange, in an interview with The Age, confirmed his respectable personality,

“He was the sort of kid who moved a spider and let it free when the others wanted to kill it…He was always a nurturing sort of fellow.”

Image courtesy Vertigogen via Flickr

This was an enduring time for Assange; who joined a squatter’s union in Melbourne with his then girlfriend, and at 18 the couple married and had a son, but this would prove to be too fatiguing.  In 1991 his girlfriend left with their son, and Assange was arrested.  However, he was later acquitted for “good conduct”, and his “disrupted childhood”, concluding Assange’s first escape from the law.

In 2006 Assange formed WikiLeaks, a whistle-blower organization, however nothing major was achieved until 2010, with the release of the video, ‘Collateral Murder’, depicting an attack on Iraq by the US in 2007, where innocent journalists and civilians are targeted.
Since the release of this video, Assange has become a wanted man.  The United States declared him a “high-tech terrorist”, with some calling for his assassination, and the Australian government has withdrawn all support.

Furthermore, since December 2010, Assange has been wanted for alleged sexual assault in Sweden, from where it’s possible Assange can be further extradited to the US, where supporters argue he won’t receive a fair trial.

Currently, Assange is trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy within London, granted diplomatic asylum, but unable to leave for fear of being arrested, completely deadlocked.  On Saturday, August 18th, Assange gave this historic speech from the Ecuadorian embassy balcony, his firt public appearance since fleeing to the embassy for diplomatic asylum.

Mary Kostakidis, member of GetUp!, an Australian advocacy organization, had this to say on Assange, “I am greatly disturbed by what’s happening to Julian Assange. It overturns centuries of historic and legal precedent protecting freedom of the press, and exposes journalists around the world to the vengeance and tyranny of governments anywhere.”

Image courtesy ABC

What does the future hold for Assange?  One cannot be sure.  Even on house arrest during 2011, Assange conducted a television show, appeared in The Simpsons, and even now trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange dines with individuals such as Lady Gaga, and has time to consider suing Julia Gillard and run to be a senator.  It can be certain at least; Assange is not going down without a fight.  In his own words, “Perhaps as an old man I will take great comfort in pottering around in a lab and gently talking to students in the summer evening and will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.” (“Witnessing”. 2007-01-03)

Assange granted asylum and the world watches.

Julian Assange, co-founder of the whistle-blower organization WikiLeaks, was granted political asylum by the London-based Ecuadorian embassy last month, on Thursday, August 16.  Assange applied for political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy in June after he was granted bail and able to leave the house he had been living in under house arrest for the past one and a half years.

In a public appearance he gave from the balcony of the embassy on Saturday, August 18, he praised the bravery and courage of the Latin American nation, and condemned Australia’s lack of support for him.

“I am grateful to the Ecuadorian people, President Rafael Correa and his government….  It was not Britain or my home country, Australia, that stood up to protect me from persecution, but a courageous, independent Latin American nation,” he said.

However, no comments were made on how or when Assange would hope to leave the embassy and travel to Ecuador.

Image courtesy chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr

Currently, the WikiLeaks co-founder faces the possibility that he may be extradited to Sweden in response to rape allegations, to which Assange claims are “politically motivated”. From Sweden, he then faces a further extradition to America, in which it is likely he will receive a life sentence for committing sedition and espionage under US law for leaking thousands of confidential diplomatic cables.

The President of Ecuador, Rafael Vicente Correa, took a stand for Assange.

“Assange never stole the information,” he said. “It was handed to him by Bradley Manning. He just distributed it. So why didn’t the newspapers that published it also get sanctioned? That is an international double standard. The answer is that the newspapers have power, whereas Mr Assange is just a citizen. That is why certain countries want to crush him with all their weight.”

The Australian government has been mostly silent on the topic, with only brief comments made by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard in December 2010 stating that the activities conducted by WikiLeaks are “illegal”.

Politics student at the University of Wollongong, Josie Stuart, who has been following the issue closely, had this to say in an interview on Monday, “The Australian Government isn’t interested in his human rights, and see him as a burden, especially as he’s standing in between the strong relationship between Australia and America.  However, there is still very strong public support for him globally, it will be interesting to see how he will be treated when the whole world is watching.”

Blog Proposal

The following is a proposal for what this blog will discuss in further entries throughout the coming weeks, feel free to contribute ideas or feedback.

A newsworthy topic that will be covered in the proposed blog shall be the whistle blower organization; WikiLeaks, as well as its co-founder Julian Assange.  The blog will cover both the activities of the organization and Assange’s extradition case.  The blog will be entitled ‘Citizen Erased’.

This topic was selected firstly because of its prominence within the media, and also because it has continued to be an important issue since 2010.  It can be considered newsworthy, as the activities of WikiLeaks are highly controversial, for they expose secretive and often shocking information, that can be argued are extremely important for the general public to know.  Furthermore, the extradition of Julian Assange and the negative representation of him within western media, as well as America’s very public desire to execute him, shed an important light on the concepts of free speech, freedom of information and justice in modern society.  Furthermore, the work of WikiLeaks and Assange also question the involvement and role of western countries in regards to war & conflict in Middle Eastern countries.  The news values that are relevant in regards to this topic, as coined by Johan Galtung & Mari Ruge (1965) include firstly continuity, as this has remained a main story within the media since 2010, and new developments occur almost daily.  Also, the topic can be considered as referring mostly to an elite nation, as much of the issue deals with the public desire of America to shut down WikiLeaks and detain Assange, and as America is a considerable global power, it is more likely to become a main story.  This topic also incorporates the value of elite people, as Julian Assange has gained an infamous reputation due to the negative coverage by western media, and therefore the amount of negative coverage Assange receives from elite nations turns him into an infamous elite person.  The target audience of this topic will likely include mostly citizens from westernized countries, with at least some kind of tertiary education, and left wing views.

There will be a range of questions explored in the covering of this topic, including, ‘Should the infamous WikiLeaks video, Collateral Murder, have been released to the public?’, ‘Should Bradley Manning, the solider accused of releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks, be given a harsh sentence?’, ‘Do you believe what Julian Assange and what WikiLeaks are doing is helpful or damaging?’ and also, ‘Do you believe Julian Assange should have been granted political asylum by Ecuador, or does he deserve to pay for his “crimes”?  ‘Are we simply shooting the messenger and not dealing with the real problems this issue brings?’ These questions will be important to the readers engaged with the topic covered in this blog because firstly they raise even further, and larger questions that are important to the majority of people within society, such as, ‘Is the concept of free speech being lost in modern society, being taken over by privacy and secrecy?  Does free speech, particularly in Australia; need to be given more concern?  Or, does free speech, as well as the freedom of information, threaten and endanger society, and should they be restricted and rethought? This topic also brings into question the power and potential manipulation of media by western nations, as well as the involvement of western nations in wars that arguably aren’t their own to fight, and how much citizens don’t know that goes on behind closed doors.

The main readers of the blog will include, as stated above, citizens in western and industrialized nations that have access to this news, for if they live in these countries then they are likely know a fair amount or at least have heard about it due to the topic’s domination in the media, due to the western media’s constant and negative coverage of WikiLeaks and Assange.  Furthermore, it is likely the main readers will have a higher education or tertiary education, for it is an issue involving debates about further questions such as free speech, freedom of information, western nations power and war & conflict.  Also, it is likely that these viewers will be left wing, as it is often more likely that people who align themselves with this viewpoint are more likely to support these extreme concepts, such as WikiLeaks and Assange, than right wing viewers.  They would be interested in following this blog because it will analyze the issue deeper than what is briefly reported in the media, and discuss the more important questions behind the controversy, and aim to achieve a more in depth and balanced understanding of the issue as a whole.  This blog aims to inform readers on the issue who think they already know everything by undergoing extensive research, and incorporating elements often unseen in the media such as background information, features on key people or events that aren’t often given coverage, interviews and opinions from a variety of sources including both academics or everyday citizens, examination of the various documents released by WikiLeaks, as well as a forum to discuss the questions raised.

In order to attract readers, the blog will be packaged in an online format, available on the user friendly website WordPress. Also, the posts will be posted to further social media sites as to allow for a greater coverage and audience; these sites will include Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.  Furthermore, a Twitter feed associated with the topic will be created to coincide with the blog, tweeting and retweeting relevant news updates on regards to the issue.  A Twitter app will also be installed within the WordPress website so that both can also be viewed simultaneously.  This format will also provide interactivity between the users to post and share their own thoughts on the topic also.

Individuals that have been approached so far in relation to ideas and reactions include at this stage only friends, and also conducted was a quick sampling of individuals at the university campus asking simply if they had heard of WikiLeaks and Assange, and whether or not they had an opinion on it, as to determine whether or not this topic can be evaluated as newsworthy.  Materials that have been referred to so far include both old and new media, including the television, newspapers, and the Internet.  Research that has been undertaken already includes the viewing of the documentary Wikileaks War Lies And Videotape.  Also, writings by Australian journalist, John Pilger, a well-known supporter of Assange, were analyzed, including his interview with Assange in his film The War That You Don’t See.  A comparison between how the news in America and Australia report on the issue of WikiLeaks was also conducted, and finally a number of episodes of Julian Assange’s own television show, The World Tomorrow, were viewed.

Individuals that will be potentially approached in the future for ideas and reactions will firstly include lecturers at the University of Wollongong, possibly including Communication & Media as well as Politics lecturers, and these interviews will most likely be conducted face to face.  Furthermore, attempts will be made to get into contact with individuals who work with Assange who may be slightly more accessible, such as a member from Assange’s legal team, for example Jennifer Robinson and this will most likely be done by using Twitter or email.  Also, attempts to contact various government ministers or a member for parliament or a senator for comment will be made and this will also be done using email.  A member from the Australian political activist group Get Up! may also be contacted if possible.  If these attempts fail, then students with knowledge of the issue will be questioned each week on a related question to the topic.  Further research that will be undertaken includes the viewing of other documentaries that may be guided by a different angle than the previous documentary already viewed.  Julian Assange’s own show The World Tomorrow shall also continue to be viewed as new episodes are aired, and a continual analysis of the reporting of the topic by different networks within Australia, US, UK and possibly Sweden shall also be addressed.  Specific television shows shall also be examined, such as Q&A, to get opinions from politicians, and important public figures, and in return this will discover what is important to the Australian public with regards to the topic in the questions they ask these figures. Books and journal articles shall also be researched in order to see if there have been any academic writings already on this topic that will be useful to gain further insight.