Australian Journalists Support WikiLeaks
A coalition of 26 of Australia’s most prominent journalists — essentially, the editors of every major newspaper (with the exception of the right-wing The Australian) and the news directors of all the major networks — have written a remarkable open letter to Julia Gillard criticizing the U.S. (and Australian) government’s attacks on WikiLeaks and threats to prosecute Assange. Here is a snippet:
The leaking of 250,000 confidential American diplomatic cables is the most astonishing leak of official information in recent history, and its full implications are yet to emerge. But some things are clear. In essence, WikiLeaks, an organisation that aims to expose official secrets, is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret.
In this case, WikiLeaks, founded by Australian Julian Assange, worked with five major newspapers around the world, which published and analysed the embassy cables. Diplomatic correspondence relating to Australia has begun to be published here.
The volume of the leaks is unprecedented, yet the leaking and publication of diplomatic correspondence is not new. We, as editors and news directors of major media organisations, believe the reaction of the US and Australian governments to date has been deeply troubling. We will strongly resist any attempts to make the publication of these or similar documents illegal. Any such action would impact not only on WikiLeaks, but every media organisation in the world that aims to inform the public about decisions made on their behalf. WikiLeaks, just four years old, is part of the media and deserves our support.
Already, the chairman of the US Senate homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, is suggesting The New York Times should face investigation for publishing some of the documents. The newspaper told its readers that it had ‘‘taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.’’ Such an approach is responsible — we do not support the publication of material that threatens national security or anything which would put individual lives in danger. Those judgements are never easy, but there has been no evidence to date that the WikiLeaks material has done either.
There is no evidence, either, that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have broken any Australian law. The Australian government is investigating whether Mr Assange has committed an offence, and the Prime Minister has condemned WikiLeaks’ actions as ‘‘illegal’’. So far, it has been able to point to no Australian law that has been breached.
To prosecute a media organisation for publishing a leak would be unprecedented in the US, breaching the First Amendment protecting a free press. In Australia, it would seriously curtail Australian media organisations reporting on subjects the government decides are against its interests.
This is how a real media acts — one that is more interested in educating the public than being invited to barbecues and receiving six-figure book deals to write hagiographies of famous politicians. And to think, Australia doesn’t even have a First Amendment!