WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange: Oz Hero or Villain

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is either a hero or a villain in his home country of Australia. Many people, both here and abroad, are demanding the head of the WikiLeaks founder. Others see him as a peoples’ champion.

Local bloggers have focused less on the content of the cablegate disclosures and more on ethical issues and possible consequences for effective governance.

Club Troppo’s group blog has had two authors posting about the controversy from quite different angles. Ken Parish sees the disclosures so far as both counter-productive and unjustifiable:

I couldn’t agree more with FOI expert Peter Timmins about the latest Wikileaks “disclosures”. I have no idea whether Assange is a rapist or not, but he’s certainly succeeded in setting the cause of public sector whistleblowing back by a decade or more. The documents so far disclosed indicate little or no public misfeasance by the US or anyone else, so there is simply no legitimate public interest in their disclosure.
Random thoughts and gripes

Fellow Club Troppo blogger, Paul Frijters, is concerned for Assange’s welfare and hopes that the leaks will lead to better accountability:

Well, they’ve done it again. Queensland-boy Julian Assange and his band of merry journalists and IT-nerds have flooded the internet once again with sensitive information that embarrasses several governments, most notably the US, by releasing the content of several hundred thousand diplomatic cables.

Soon Julian Assange will get caught, if not by Interpol which seems to be close to putting out a warrant on him, then by the Australian prosecutors who will want to ‘scrutinise whether he has broken the law’, or else some other Western government. Once he is caught, I predict he will spend the rest of his life in the courts.

I’d say Julian Assange is destined for a lifetime of prison food unless he finds a country willing to protect him. Wikileaks should be applauded for its adherence to the ideal of openness and government accountability, but it has not yet opened up the powerful to truly invasive scrutiny of the bad things some of them get up to. Perhaps that is yet to come. I certainly hope so.
Whereto for Wikileaks?

Katy Barnett, who blogs as Legal Eagle at Skeptical Lawyer, looks at the legal aspects and then weighs the merits of Julian’s actions:

I must confess that I am ambivalent about WikiLeaks, regardless of whether any proceedings are brought against Assange or not.

…One has to carefully balance freedom of information with other interests. Disclosing information is not always a good thing. And it’s natural enough that the views a government expresses in private communications differ from the views it expresses publicly (this happens with individuals too: it’s called tact).
Wikileaks and the brave new world of freedom of information

Lorenzo at Thinking Out Loud believes that the leaks endanger lives and compares them with the famous Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers leaks during the Vietnam War:

The Wikileaks document dump may well pose dangers for particular individuals. Which is shameful, and an implication of the nastiness of much Middle Eastern politics. But, regardless of what one might think of Julian Assange and his actions, what he has actually revealed is a fairly sane, and fairly well informed, diplomatic world.
What the Pentagon Papers have wrought

In his post and response to comments at Personal Reflections, a former senior public servant Jim Belshaw joins other commentators in arguing that good governance will be affected in that governments will become more secretive and less candid in private:

To my mind, the biggest danger created by wikileaks lies in the nature of likely Government responses. I expect these to, among other things, reduce access to information; to increase the risks and penalties for those who do speak out; and to increase the constipation in Government systems that has already reduced effectiveness.

No Government can ignore what has happened. In Australia we have a whole of Government task force addressing the implications of the leaks. The position in the US is more complicated and dangerous.
Mr Assange's ego

Luke Miller at Crikey has been posting about what the unreleased Australian cables might contain. His speculations about our government’s attitude to Israel take a twist:

…an unfavourable leak in the next few days about Australia’s international dealings could torpedo Australia’s soccer World Cup bid, also dependent on at least one vote from the Middle East, which occurs early next month.

No wonder the Australian government is huffing and puffing.
The Canberra cables: next WikiLeaks drop to jeopardise World Cup bid?

Since Australia received only one vote at FIFA in its bid for 2022, this claim could easily be accused of being a beat-up as one the comments suggests.

Antony Lowenstein is a well known blogger about the Middle East. At the ABC’s Unleashed he questions the mainstream media’s reaction:

There is an overly-suspicious attitude towards people like Assange who refuse to play the traditional media game. He’s an outsider with exclusive information. He hasn’t spent years cultivating contacts inside the media tent. And he doesn’t spend most of his free time socialising with political staffers, editors and insiders.

…The job of real journalists is not to insulate officials or governments from embarrassment but to investigate legitimate stories relevant to the public interest.
Where's the media's backbone over WikiLeaks?

At The Punch, Helen Young looks at the difficulties in keeping secrets in the digital age:

The latest Wikileaks disaster for the U.S. government may centre on the actions of its diplomats rather than its soldiers, but Cablegate and the Afghan and Iraq War Diary data dumps are all crises of information control and management.
The Wiki leaks are not the end of all secrets

Gary Sauer-Thompson of Public Opinion echoes Lowenstein’s concerns about the role of the media who are seen still acting as the gatekeepers:

What is interesting about the Wikileaks’ dumps (the Afghanistan and Iraq war reports plus the diplomatic cable dump) is that the elite news organizations in the Internet age — in this case, The Guardian, NYT and Der Spiege etc —are conduits of material originally obtained not by their own investigative journalists but by others, such as WikiLeaks.

…What we have is collaboration by major media organizations across international borders both in agreeing to work together in publishing the material and in agreeing what material should be kept out. It is a new kind of global investigative journalism.
WikiLeaks: embassy cables dump

For Australia, the best or worst is yet to come unless governments manage to silence Julian Assange for good.


  • A couple of simple truths apply here as I see it;

    a) Governments operating above board are not in fear of leaks hitting the fan.

    b) Assange hardly invented leak publishing, and stopping him does not stop them. Even the New York Times published what Wikileaks received, by & large with some limited parsing for anything highly sensitive that may endanger lives. They will not spare the embarrassment of any nation, nor did the Washington Post when it published the infamous Pentagon Papers that blew the cover off Nixon administration lies about it’s conduct of the Vietnam war. (which it did inherit from LBJ, whom was also being untruthful about it)

    This is why a free press is a cornerstone of democratic society and a bulwark against state tyranny. It is able to watchdog government, not act as it’s mouthpiece. It may say what it wishes, and blow the whistles which are needed for proper informing of the public. Ask residents of former Iron Curtain nations how things were without it…



  • Richard

    This is straight from Wikipedia (no relation!)
    WikiLeaks has won a number of awards, including the 2008 Economist magazine New Media Award. In June 2009, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange won Amnesty International’s UK Media Award (in the category “New Media”) for the 2008 publication of “Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances”, a report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights about police killings in Kenya.
    The Wikileaks team have been publishing hidden crimes for several years now. Imagine the day when you might wish for a ‘Robin Hood’ who would expose the baddies who had caused ill to you or your loved ones.
    Try thinking of Wikileaks as ‘a court of last appeal’ – where you are standing out on Main Street, crying for justice or pleading that the facts be heard.
    I feel for all the brave ones fighting all over the world for what they believe is right and true. Try thinking of Assange and the Wikileaks team as fighting bravely in their own way, to bring truth out into the open – and thus give peace a chance.

  • George Cloony

    He is a crazy goon from the outback of Australia. This man has no right to be roaming the streets rapist or not. He is quite a bit alike to pastor Jones, who has recently burned the quaran. He is taking freedom of speech to an extreme, and putting lives in danger.
    I agree with Roy and do agree that freedom of speech is a good thing, but when there is too much or it is taken to an extreme it is terrible. Certain thing should not be known or said to protect the live of people.
    Had the documents about Vietnam not been uncovered, the war may not have been nearly as gruesome or long. Another problem with complete freedom of speech is when telecasters say whatever they please on the radio or T.V, it is unnecessary and a bad influence on children.
    All in all Julian Assange and Wiki leaks should not be hailed as heroes, or villains they should be shut down and sent to jail.

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