Tom Spender

Freelance journalist in London

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Incitement to murder

December 7th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Journalism, Uncategorized

Jeffrey Kuhner: Assassinate Assange?

William Kristol: “Whack Wikileaks

Jonah Goldberg: “Why is Assange still alive?

Tom Flanagan: “Assange should be assassinated, actually” (he later apologised)

Sarah Palin: “Use all necessary means to respond to and defeat Wikileaks

These people have all – directly or indirectly – called for Wikileaks Julian Assange to be murdered for building a platform that enables whistleblowers to release information without giving themselves away (a few more are mentioned in this column: “Questions we wouldn’t be asking in a sane world“)

I just boggle at this.

It is simply not on to call for the death of someone who helps spread information.

After Assange, who’s next?

Presumably, if Assange must die, so too must the whistleblower(s) within US government circles who released the cables to Wikileaks (step forward 23-year-old prime suspect Bradley Manning) as well as the editors and staff at the NYT, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, who have all been working on and publishing the documents released by Wikileaks.

And then, once the habit of murdering anyone the US rightwing establishment doesn’t like is established, it can set off on a jolly hunting spree.

After all, this is acceptable in some circles. Drug gangs, for example, who murdered Irish journalist Veronica Guerin. The unknown forces who murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Those who murdered Natalia Estemirova, who investigated human rights abuses in Chechnya. Violent mafias, and so on.

These calls for blood put me in mind of the famous quote ending: “Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up”, about the rise of the Nazis in Germany.

It also recalls the extreme violence of the Algerian civil war, as described by Robert Fisk in The Great War for Civilisation. Hundreds of thousands of Algerians died in the bloodbath, he says, as a logical consequence of the assertion by armed groups that it was acceptable to kill anyone who didn’t agree with them.

One of the ironies here is that if even a fraction of this material had been obtained by a journalist at a mainstream newspaper, the resulting articles would be hailed as a scoop and a demonstration that Watergate-esque insider source-driven journalism isn’t dead.

But in actual fact, as Jay Rosen of New York University observes in this video, the watchdog press is dead. Particularly so in the US, where most of the incitements to murder Assange are being published and where the press failed utterly to perform any kind of watchdog duty over a US government that launched a war – leading to 100,000s of deaths – on bogus grounds.

Further, traditional media may no longer be in a position to protect sensitive sources. Journalists can be jailed for this, but more significantly (I think) it’s just very difficult these days not to leave any kind of electronic trace if you are dealing with information. This is where Wikileaks comes in. Its innovation has been to create a platform for whistleblowers whereby it takes (and examine) the information but gains no knowledge of its provenance.

Wikileaks is set up to take on the big centres of power.

Despite all this (perhaps because of it), the reaction of some journalists to the sudden availability of confidential – you know, the type journalists are usually desperate to get their hands on – information has been bizarre.

I was particularly surprised to see an august German correspondent (I think it was Thomas Kielinger of Die Welt, but I can’t be sure) on the BBC’s Dateline London argue that the information wasn’t interesting because journalists hadn’t had to work hard to get it.

The problem for the US is not only that it has been embarrassed but that someone within its employ didn’t buy the US government “project” as he/she saw it and decided to leak.

And the US government response – to hound Assange and try to wipe his website off the web without any due legal process – only further undermines its image.

As Clay Shirky notes:

The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton looks like a hypocrite

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognise that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it.

As Jake Adelstein, author of the incredible book Tokyo Vice and someone who knows all about sensitive sources, put it on Twitter:

Val Plame, Igari Toshiro, Dan Elsberg, Veronica Guerin, Sam Provance, Assange. Blow the whistle & you summon the dogs of war

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