Tag Archives: Journalism

Julian Assange: Journalist, Activist or Informant?

The Wikileaks.org is back in focus after another massive publications of classified documents, and  series of TV performances by the website‘s founder and editor in chief, Julian Assange. He promotes his business as “scientific journalism.” The former criminal computer-hacker encourage whistle-blowers and other informants to leak secrets to the public website in the name of freedom of speech, and the principles of a free press.

“My greatest fear is that we will be too successful too fast and won’t be able to do justice to the material.”

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

When I was a kid, we were taught that  squealing on friends and neighbors was wrong. It was a very important lesson Norwegians learned under the German occupation during World War II when many peoples, and several resistance groups, lives depended on it.

Back in the late 90’s, the director of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, (and my boss at the time), Einar Førde refused to run a governmental TV commercial that promoted the police’s “tip-off-phone” for drug crimes.

Mr, Førde’s argument was that encouraging people to squeal on each other, anonymously, could have more negative effects than benefits.

I believe he made a wise decision.

Einar Førde died in 2004, but left behind a big bundle of wisdom. Some it expressed in – now famous – quotes, like;

“The society isn’t exactly characterized by common sense.”

That’s why the critics of Wikileak may have point; some things might not be suitable for publishing.

The Age of The Whistle-blower

Julian Assange, said yesterday that the organization is working through a “backlog” of further secret material and was expecting a “substantial increase in submissions” from whistle-blowers after one of the biggest leaks in US military history.

Speaking in London after his website published more than 92,000 classified military logs relating to the war in Afghanistan, Assange said that he hoped for an “age of the whistle-blower” in which more people would come forward with information they believed should be published.

Assange said that the site, which currently operates with a small dedicated team but has a network of about 800 volunteers, had a “backlog” of more material which only “just scratched the surface”.

While he would not be drawn into commenting on the nature of the material, he said that the organization held “several million files” that “concern every country in the world with a population over 1 million”.

He said the site had undergone a “publishing haitus” since December during a period of re-engineering.

Assange suggested a clear step-up of operations and said that there were difficulties in changing from a small to large organisation while ensuring it would still be able to work in a secure way.

“My greatest fear is that we will be too successful too fast and won’t be able to do justice to the material,” he said.

Contagious

He also said that from past experience the organization was expecting more material to add to the backlog.

He told the audience that after the site leaked details of one incident that killed 51 people in Afghanistan, “we received substantial increase in submissions”.

“Courage is contagious,” he added. “Sources are encouraged by the opportunities they see in front of them.”

He then added that a further 15,000 potentially sensitive reports had been excluded from today’s leak and were being were being reviewed further. Some of this material would be released once it was deemed safe to do so, he said, adding  that the majority of this material was threat reports and that it included more than 50 embassy cables.

Assange’s plans will cause concern in government agencies, which argue that the site’s leaks are “irresponsible” and pose a threat to military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Assange, however, said that the site have applied “harm minimization” procedures before publishing material.

I guess they wouldn’t have established a “harm minimization procedure” if they didn’t think it would be needed.

Detained In Kuwait

If the “harm minimization procedures” will help 22 year old US Army Specialist, Bradley Manning, doesn’t Assange say anything about.

The US soldier was arrested last month after the release of a classified video showing a 2007 helicopter attack that killed a dozen people in Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff.

According to Wired Magazine is may also be Manning who have leaked the recent published documents on Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks released 90,000 classified documents about the war in Afghanistan, Sunday, and again the website ran on overload, as US officials fired massive accusation attack on the site for putting the nations security in danger.

Monday, the mysterious Julian Assange, who usually is almost as easy to get hold off as Osama bin-Laden, appeared on the Larry King Show on CNN, talking about the Afghanistan files:

Convicted Criminal

Julian Assange was once a physics and mathematics student, that turned into on of the worlds most famous computer  hackers.

In the early 90’s he was convicted of attacks on the US intelligence, and publishing a magazine which inspired crimes against the Commonwealth.

Wikileaks was founded in 2006. Julian Assange now sits on its nine-member advisory board, and have become a prominent media spokesman on its behalf.

This is how he’s being characterized:

“One of the most intriguing people in the world”

“Internet’s freedom fighter”

“Extremely cynical”

“Assange is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country.”

Wikileak have won a bunch of media awards, among others, the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award (New Media) and the 2008 Economist Index on Censorship Award.

Assange brags about that Wikileaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined, saying:

“That’s not something I say as a way of saying how successful we are – rather, that shows you the parlous state of the rest of the media. How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It’s disgraceful.”

It’s certainly true that the financial press failed in front of the financial crises, and its true that the traditional medias more or less have abandon their role as news providers.

But Mr. Assange and Wikileaks are still walking on a thin line.

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European criminals and politicians taking "libel tourism" trips to UK

Organised criminals, businessmen and politicians, particularly from eastern Europe, are flocking to the UK courts to file libel cases. Their objective is to punish and scare off journalists who ask too many awkward questions.

“The UK’s plaintiff-friendly laws, high defamation awards, strong willingness of British courts to accept jurisdiction, and exorbitant cost of legal fees make the United Kingdom perfect for oligarchs, organised crime figures, and wealthy businessmen”

The EU Observer

(Article in English)

Organised criminals, businessmen and politicians, particularly from eastern Europe, are flocking to the UK courts to file libel cases, writes EUobserver.


Their objective is to punish and scare off journalists who ask too many awkward questions, threatening the very existence of publications in the east that engage in investigative journalism since in English and Welsh courts the burden of proof is borne by the accused rather than the complainant.

Oligarchs, mafiosi. Saudi billionaires and even totalitarian governments regularly take advantage of UK laws that say that a journalist is guilty until proven innocent, according to a report by an editor with the Center for Investigative Reporting in Bosnia-Herzegovina (CIN), Drew Sullivan.

The report, published last week by the US-based Center for International Media Assistance, says that while the problem of “libel tourism” is an old one, in recent years as daily newspapers, which to a greater or lesser extent had the funds to stand up for their reporters in court, have abandoned investigative reporting, the baton has been taken up by smaller, non-profit web-publishing outfits that are in a much more precarious situation.

“By publishing online, a media organisation faces the risk of libel and defamation suits in just about every jurisdiction in the world,” the report says.

“[The UK’s] plaintiff-friendly laws, high defamation awards, strong willingness of British courts to accept jurisdiction, and exorbitant cost of legal fees make the United Kingdom perfect for oligarchs, organised crime figures, and wealthy businessmen.”

Ireland and France too are increasingly popular stopovers on the libel tourism trail, although Paris is attractive not because of the size of the awards (which are capped at €12,000), but because libel is still considered a criminal case. A journalist branded a criminal sometimes serves a complainant’s interests much more than bankrupting him or her.

In one example from June, 2008, Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov sued Ukraine’s Kyiv Post newspaper and Obozrevatel, a news website, over stories about him. The Kyiv Post only had around 100 subscribers in Britain, but fears were such that the Post rapidly settled and apologised.

Obozrevatel, which had almost no visitors from the United Kingdom and published only in Ukrainian, could not afford to defend itself and so Mr Akhmetov won a default judgment of £50,000.

“From press accounts and parliamentary testimony, we know that in the UK, there are even lawyers who will read the newspapers just to identify possible cases, call the people involved and suggest a suit in order to drum up business,” Mr Sullivan told EUobserver. “It’s a sort of libel ambulance chasing.”

Mr Sullivan’s own civil society ‘start-up’ at the CIN, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, regularly feels the heat from the subjects of its investigations, requiring the publication to have a British lawyer kept on retainer.

“For our work, we are investigating organised crime figures, politicians, businessmen of fairly high standing in the community. In the 1990s in Russia, say, they would just send some guys to beat us up, but this is a bit harder to do now, so they are using the legal route to do basically the same thing. It’s been very effective in eastern Europe.”

He said that the OCCRP is considering shutting off access to the UK to put an end to the lawsuits: “We have maybe two percent of our readership there, but the UK is causing 97 percent of our risk.”

Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who specialises in battling the libel tourists, explained to this website how things have accelerated in the last few years. “It really started off [in the 1950s], with Liberace suing over accusations that he was a homosexual, which he won. This opened the floodgates to a large number of celebrities doing the same thing for many years. This died away more recently when they began to realise that it was cheaper and more effective to spend a million on a PR man than a team of lawyers, and with much less reputational damage,”

“The claimant lawyers then moved on to Russian oligarchs, Gulf billionaires, multinationals and heads of totalitarian states, making London in recent years the libel capital of the world.”

But the problem is not limited to the east. In 2007, the Icelandic investment bank Kaupthing sued Ekstra Bladet, a Danish newspaper, after a reporter wrote articles critical of the bank’s handling of tax shelters for the wealthy. While Ekstra Bladet stories were republished in English on a Danish website that gets few or no visitors from the UK, British courts accepted jurisdiction after the bank argued that London was a major banking centre and Kaupthing’s chief executive resided in Britain.

Fearing the huge costs of the case, the paper sought a settlement from the beginning and eventually paid Kaupthing’s legal fees and additional damages, apologising to the bank.

One of the institutions at the heart of the collapse of the Icelandic economy, Kaupthing nevertheless in December 2009 became the subject of a investigation into the bank’s practices by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.

Sources:

Center for Investigative Reporting

Baltic Business News

EUobserver.com

Related by The Econotwist:

The Invisible Hand

Please, Give This Man An Award!

How Sweden sent Estonian economy into free fall

Circus Wall Street – Act 2

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