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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