posted on Dec, 7 2010 @ 01:02 PM
This is an expansion of a discussion I had in another thread.
I’ve followed the leaks with as much interest as anyone else but of more interest to me has been the reaction of others to Julian Assange and
Wikileaks itself. Throughout all public comment, tabloid punditry and political rhetoric there is one common theme; things tend to err towards the
I have read comments that range from “Assange is a hero” to “he’s a terrorist”, if they have an opinion people seem to either think he
should be awarded a Nobel Prize or he should be executed. Some herald Wikileaks as a new dawn in truth while others consider it to be the most
irresponsible act since Mr and Mrs Hitler thought “let’s make a baby”. The middle ground is sparsely populated.
My personal opinion is that the truth is somewhere in between these two extremes with Wikileaks representing at best a slightly different medium of
publication and Assange being a bit of an ego with an ideology. The value of Wikileaks, if any, should be found in what it offers over current ways of
gathering and disseminating information, i.e. the traditional media.
With regards to how information is gathered, Wikileaks uses broadly the same methods as any other news organisation in that inforamtion is generally
passed on by concerned/disgruntled individuals with access to said information. There is little that Wikileaks brings to the table as far as
collecting information goes.
Wikileaks has argued that it is better placed to protect whistleblowers but considering that Bradley Manning is currently facing up to 52 years in
prison this claim is a little shaky. Manning is not alone; there have been other arrests following leaks posted on Wikileaks (such as the couple who
leaks the BNP membership list). In this area Wikileaks does nothing that conventional media cannot and does not do.
This brings me on to how the public actually gets access to the information. There’s little else to say except that most people have found out about
each leak by reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV. The fact that these two outlets have such a massive audience means that Wikileaks is
unlikely to trump them and they know it. In publishing their latest, and most widely known leak they have had to partner with five established
newspapers in order to find any significant audience. The question is what exactly did Wikileaks do that was so vital between Manning taking the
information and these newspapers publishing it?
The actual results that the site gets should be the ultimate test of how important Wikileaks is; unfortunately the effects of the leaks are patchy.
Although good has undoubtedly come from some leaks I don’t see this as being enough to justify the view that Wikileaks represents any major shift in
freedom of information. The website has published a huge amount of information but on the whole this ranges from being explosive, important stuff to
rather petty unimportant gossip; nothing that hasn’t been done before by the traditional media.
Wikileaks also occasionally strays past the petty and into the genuinely damaging, for example when it published the membership list of the British
National Party. Although most might disagree with everything that this far right party represents I would hope that most would also agree that
everyone has a right to engage in the political system without fear, to prejudice this freedom is a very serious act. In the latest batch of leaks
many, even among supporters, have condemned the publishing of a list of sites considered to be vital to US national interests. The site has even
leaked a partial list of its own donors who presumably donated their money in the understanding that their details would not be made public.
Ultimatley Wikileaks has done some good and some bad but the vast majority of what it does is pretty ineffectual despite making headlines. One thing
they do do that others do not is bulk. However this is not necessarily a good thing, in the case of the latest batch of leaks important information
such as the revelation that the US has been spying on the UN has been overshadowed and buried by a deluge of diplomatic gossip about how Sarkozy is
thin skinned or how Prince Andrew is a bit rude. Where wikileaks dumps everything traditional media is more likely to concentrate on particular
stories to maximize impact; there are arguments in favour of both but I would suggest that the latter is most effective if you want real change.
The fact that some leaks have had an impact isn’t very significant when you consider that if you throw enough mud at the wall some is bound to
stick. In this area there is again nothing that Wikileaks does that could not be and has not been done by traditional media.
One could argue that Wikileaks is less susceptible to bias than traditional media but I would question this citing the July 12th Baghdad airstrike
video. Just by calling the released video “Collateral Murder” Wikileaks betrays its bias, further to this is the site’s selective editing of the
video; the purpose of the edit was clearly to make a point and not simply to provide the evidence allowing the public to make up their own minds.
Regardless of whether you agree with the reasons for the edit or whether you think the video depicts a war crime or not it is nevertheless evidence of
an editorial slant no different to any biased news outlet. Further to this is the insurance file; it is reasonable to ask why an organisation that
publicly states that it believes in transparency can, for its own ends, sit on information that it deems so explosive that it can guarantee its
safety. Their slant may be positive in some people’s eyes but it’s still a slant and not the unmolested truth.
The idea that if Wikileaks didn’t exist all of these whistleblowers would delete the information they risked their jobs or even lives to get is
pretty hard to believe. If Bradley Manning did not have Wikileaks there is no reason he could not have sent a copy of his leaks to the New York Times
or one of the other five newspapers that are now publishing that information.
As for Assange himself, he is only a cog in a much larger machine; he’s not a hero or a villain and he certainly hasn’t put himself at risk for
any noble cause. His high profile is not necessary for Wikileaks to operate and if he weren’t in the picture I can’t think how this would mean
information would dry up. There are others in the public eye that are associated with Wikileaks but they don’t court the media in the same way as
Assange and Wikileaks is no worse off for it. Turning Assange into some sort of fold hero is no more warranted than turning him into a bond villain.
There’s more I wanted to say but don’t have time so to summarise I think Wikileaks is a new face, it’s had a few interesting hits and it has
some novelty. It’s managed a few large scale leaks so it’s got a huge amount of media attention but in the long haul the value that Wikileaks will
add will be near none existent since it will always rely on individuals volunteering information and established media to spread it.
I’ll apologise now if I don’t reply as I might not be able to access the site for very long but I wanted to put this out there for discussion.