I was on KRCL's RadioActive last night talking about Wikileaks (click play above to listen), the grand-scale whistle blower website. I wish we had had more time to talk about the government's illegal, extra-judicial and completely inappropriate response to Wikileaks, so I'll do that here.
If you're just tuning in, Wikleaks was the organization that released the video of American helicopter gunners joyously killing civilians, including two Reuters journalists ("Reuters has been trying to obtain the video through the Freedom of Information Act, without success since the time of the attack," according to the site.) Wikileaks is an organization that released thousands of pages of data on both wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, documenting, among other things, that the government was aware of many thousands more civilian deaths and also lied about them. Most recently, Wikileaks began slowly dribbling out diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department--Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's agency--which has been embarrassing both to our own government and many others for reasons too numerous and various to list here.
But more important than those forensic details, Wikileaks is the last, best effort to massively challenge government and corporate secrecy with use of the Internet. The organization represents an entirely new form of journalism and investigation, but make no mistake that it is journalism deserving of the U.S. 1st American protection for freedom of the press. The reaction against Wikileaks is symbolic of the world's power structure trying to squash the best challenge to their authority that we've seen in my lifetime.
In the United States, and any civilized society worth it's salt, individuals accused of crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty. But with Wikileaks, the opposite has been true.
The U.S. State Department, prior to any formal charges or conviction against Julian Assange, Wikileaks' founder and nucleus, pressured Paypal to refuse Wikileaks' business, claiming that Wikileaks activities are illegal. This declaration of illegality, of course, is what a judge, jury and prosecutor do--not the State Department. Under very questionable circumstances, Assange is currently incarcerated in England where he is fighting extradition to Sweden where he faces criminal allegations of having consensual sex with two women without using a condom (Yes, really).
Visa and Mastercard joined in and refused to process donations made to Wikileaks. Wikileaks' account at Amazon.com--which hosted their site--was also closed. Wikileaks was the victim of illegal hacking (suspects unknown). And on and on. About the only well-known brand to have not forsaken Wikileaks is Twitter, the service credited with helping to nearly overthrow the very unpopular regime in Iran in 2009.
It should be noted that the State Department denies pressuring Paypal to close Wikileaks' account. That's not surprising. They know how bad it looks for them to conspire with private companies to punish individuals before they've even been accused of a crime. Make no mistake: this is retaliation against the most successful journalist in the world, nothing more. As a member of that profession, it's not entirely surprising, but is nevertheless frightening.
Rumblings are that Assange will be indicted in the U.S. for espionage. While better than punishing him extra-judiciously, this is also ludicrous. Except for the scale and effectiveness of his actions, Assange is doing what journalists do every day, including myself and my colleagues. We often receive documents that companies and the government do not want you to see--and that we are not supposed to have. We investigate them, and if they prove to have information that is valuable to the public, we release them--come what may.
"Come what may" has not usually meant having your entire operation attacked like what has happened to Wikileaks, or being charged with espionage, as so many American politicians have suggested should be done to Assange. Assange is the fall-guy despite the New York Times, the Guardian of London, Der Spiegle in Germany and others' involvement in helping Assange parse and prioritize the information before it is released. If they are successful at convicting Assange of espionage, I fear for the future of American journalism.
But I fear for the future of American journalism anyway. In the backdrop, you have the Obama administration's attack on net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that all information on the Internet is given equal access to the world's servers, meaning Internet service providers can not, say, purposefully slow down all sites on the Internet unless you pay a special toll to go faster; or, worse, like cable television or radio, have to cozy up to corporate or government overlords who will decide whether your site is worthy enough to be on the network at all.
Look, folks. The Internet is the best hope we have that democracy will function. It's a way for us citizens to talk and communicate with one another without an intermediary, and this--as Wikileaks demonstrates--can be incredibly powerful and democratizing. Corporate media--I don't care whether it's NBC, FoxNews, or hell, even NPR--should not be trusted to really go for the jugular--by that I mean their worst secrets--of the very corporations that fund them. This is why we need non-profit, non-corporate media and journalism (like KRCL), and also journalism funded largely or entirely by small, local businesses (like City Weekly), and, yes, even anarchic muck rakers like WIkileaks.
Democracy does not function when the citizens are ill informed and currently corporate media are failing to inform the citizens. My father, a daily consumer of "news" programs like Rush Limbaugh and anything they put on FoxNews watched an episode of Democracy Now! with me the other night. The show reviewed state department cables released by Wikileaks that discussed the U.S. bombings in Yemen months ago. "We attacked Yemen?" my father said, before turning a little sheepish. He consumes "news" every day. He's a retired National Guard captain. The attacks in Yemen were actually reported months ago, but there was this whole theater of war that my father's news broadcasters had kept from him like a closely guarded secret.
We can not go on this way. We may not need Wikileaks, per se, but we need whilsteblowers and we need media that is free to reveal the worst secrets of government and big business. If this is going to remain a democracy, then the people need better information than we are getting. The government must become more transparent and the big business/corporate control of media must be decreased.
I do believe that governments are entitled to secrecy. There is no public value in, say, publishing when and where soldiers will be stationed so that enemies can better attack them. Many people--consuming the same media I mentioned before--believe Wikileaks is doing more harm than good, but there has been no known damage that has resulted from Wikileaks releases (yet, of course). However, if the U.S. bribes and cajoles small, third-world countries to go along with its policies on, say, climate change, the American public--the public of the world--needs to know that. If "harm" results from the bribers being exposed, that's a harm I can live with. I urge Wikileaks to continue its partnerships with other professional journalists to continue their rather stellar record thus far of releasing massive amounts of data without causing harm.
This is not a Republican vs. Democrat or conservative vs. liberal issue: this is a Free Speech and Democracy vs. Authoritarianism issue. Which side are you on?