Julian Assange, David Aaronovitch, and Jonathan Dimbleby debated this topic in London today. I wasn’t there, and there was no live feed, so this is all based on comments tweeted by the audience, mostly City students. In retrospect, this may have been the interesting part, since the speakers seem to have just recycled old topics. This time we get an insight into what the audience thought. So here are what the predominant tweets said, and my opinions as answers. The tweets and the speakers have not been credited as I do not want to attribute a quote to the wrong person. It is hard to tell from such a small sample, but the audience seemed very unimpressed with Assange. From the tweets, I’m not getting any good reason for that, it would have been very nice to have a live feed.
The dominating tweets before the event were about the ‘irony’ that there was no recording or pictures allowed at a transparency forum. There is nothing ironic about it. Please review personal privacy and public organization transparency.
Really, really, really poor research skills! From the funny ones like calling Wikileaks, Wikipedia, not knowing Julian Assange’s name, thinking his hair change was new, and probably not recognizing his baritone, to the mildly alarming ones below.
He won’t give a detailed answer as to how they redacted the documents. He has spent the entire summer describing that (by code). If there were any that were missed, that was the fault of the US military for very carelessly putting out informants’ names in wrongly classified documents and improperly concealed.
He released Sarah Palin’s personal emails. They were of public interest because she had been using her private email account to send public office emails and circumvent transparency. The emails selected for publication by wikileaks proved that.
Who funds Wikileaks? Independent organizations do know and review this.
There were a whole lot of items that were apparently answered by Assange saying the media didn’t do this either. He is correct. If Wikileaks is to be held to journalism standards, then we all get to decide what those standards are, and the media has to be held to them too. They are a lot farther off from any standards at the moment than Wikileaks. Assange apparently said, newspapers are very rarely accountable and when they are, it’s only to very wealthy people who can use the law. Correct.
Wikileaks is not accountable to the public as a whole, just a small number of associations that fund them. Apparently this is unlike the rest of the media who are accountable only to the advertisers that dictate content? “Exactly – if one rich bastard funds wikileaks does that make it accountable?” Like, umm, Lord Conrad Black, Rupert Murdoch?
‘We as a society may think that we don’t want everything put out there’. We, as a society, have been pretty repulsed by the mainstream media too.
Inequalities of the leaks – ‘China will learn more about the US military from your leaks than vice versa.’ China does not have a military presence in 110 countries, China’s military spending is not greatly more than the entire rest of the world combined, etc., etc..
Aaronovitch asserts that Assange is no longer the underdog – he is powerful. And he must be responsible and accountable. Not unless Assange controls a military that is currently dominating 110 countries. Last I checked, he was just one guy and entitled to both privacy and the right to protect himself.
So, at the moment, I’m not really seeing what was so off putting in Assange’s answers. Links to good articles, or, best of all, a transcript would be greatly appreciated.
Updates: I am updating with articles written about the debate as I find them. Assange is an interesting character to follow in the media, he seems to bring out all of the worst journalistic qualities in others. Very entertaining. Contributions very welcome.
The Sydney Morning Herald: (This is actually an AP article, picked up by almost all of the mainstream media that have covered the topic. The Herald is of course owned by Rupert Murdoch, who employs David Aaronovitch) Recycled every smear that has ever been made by anyone about Assange or Wikileaks under the guise of “reportedly”, “was quoted”, and “critics claim”. Provided detail about each allegation, but reduced Assange’s rebuttals to “lashed out”, “fighting back”, “disputed”, “claiming”, “accused”, and “rejected claims that his group was obsessed”. The grand finale is “WikiLeaks’ site is currently down, citing maintenance issues.”
journalism.co.uk This is a fair job. It sounds like there really was nothing new covered, and it details Assange’s responses.
George Brock A City University professor? He certainly seems to be the source of most of the opinions and background knowledge of most of the tweeting above. His students call this article “incisive”, “insightful”, and “cracking”. Concludes, “Worse, from the Assange viewpoint, I think that societies construct ways in which they balance disclosure and discretion and that these are rules, however much disputed, on which civilised life depends.” Apparently, what we are fighting here is called “civilised life”. Do you hear that, middle east?
Prospect Magazine This is a sort of personality sketch of the debate, and a light, ok read with really nothing in it. Was there really nothing said?
The Telegraph has a fair and bare account, detailing only Assange’s responses and not anything from the other speakers. So it is fair that the title is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange heckled by audience. It ignores the fact that David Aaronovitch was heckled as well, but it doesn’t mention him at all. Nice to see someone not just reprint the AP article, but this is hardly worth writing at all.
Rixstep has given very good detail of what was left out of the AP article and most other reports.
Not getting through at all. Another journalism student: “For example, cabinet meeting minutes are exempt from FOI because they would make it impossible for the cabinet to be candid if the minutes were made public. So we decide that it’s better to not have access and transparency in that case so we can have a functioning and strong debate and not just the prime minister’s unchecked will.” but “Assange was arguing that it would make it more difficult for Wikileaks to operate if they were totally transparent, and of course it would but that’s the price you pay for transparency because the benefits outweigh the detriments.” Well, we can’t really expect anything new from someone who titled their piece The curious case of Julian Assange can we? Aww, flattered!
David Aaronovitch has also written a piece which is unfortunately censored by a pound for the Times. It is a very strange piece. In it he develops “Stockholm Syndrome” (during a debate), wants to protect Assange, finds him “unbelievably attractive” and “fascinating”. “Assange penetrates everyone else’s mystery, but refuses to allow anyone to penetrate his. Which, of course, drives us mad with thwarted desire, so we try all the harder. We want to solve him.” This might help.