HomeEditorial CommentCandid Comment: WikiLeaks’ ‘cablegate’ good for journalism

Candid Comment: WikiLeaks’ ‘cablegate’ good for journalism

A TORRENT of condemnation by alarmed world leaders and their governments is pouring down on the Swedish-based WikiLeaks, the controversial whistle-blowing website, after the releases of thousands of United States (US) war diaries and diplomatic cables which exposed Washington’s foreign policy and military adventures.

The White House swiftly condemned the releases as “dangerous and reckless”.

No 10 Downing Street said the leaks were “threatening national security” of Britain. This claim was predictably repeated by many other governments across the world.

This has put the non-profit-making WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, an award-winning investigative journalist and computer hacker-cum-programmer, under siege. The US, which says he is a criminal, wants him charged for espionage. Some people in the US say he should be shot and one counterterrorism expert even volunteered to pull the trigger on him.

Reports say WikiLeaks and its members have complained about continuing harassment and surveillance by law enforcement and intelligence organisations, including extended detention, seizure of computers, veiled threats, “covert following and hidden photography”.

In Sweden, investigations on rape charges against Assange are now intensifying in the wake of cablegate — unprecedented leaks of the US military and diplomatic cables. Assange is accused of raping two women there, but he denies the charges.

The disclosures by WikiLeaks, which include more than 400 000 Iraq and Afghanistan war diaries and over 250 000 diplomatic cables, have divided the world. There is a consensus among governments that the leaks are appalling and objectionable. Analysts are generally divided; some say they are bad, others say they are either good or don’t really matter. Others say they are a watershed and will change the art of statecraft, while some say they are just a nuisance and will disappear into oblivion with time.

While it is clear that the releases endanger the lives of American diplomats, servicemen and contacts — who may be targeted by terrorists, ruthless regimes and intelligence organisations — the documents are also a useful treasure trove for historians, researchers, and journalists.

This was particularly necessary in this world of today where people are forced to see things through binary vision.

From a purely journalistic point of view, WikiLeaks did a great job. The release of the files represents the triumph of investigative journalism. The breakthrough is a victory for probing journalism which leaves no stone unturned despite the attempts by government to conceal information and the truth from citizens on the pretext of national security.

The rise of WikiLeaks marks a fundamental shift away from the old-school or gate-keeping journalism. We need brave and forthright journalism which seeks to publish all information, be it in government or private sector hands, in the public interest.

No matter how much deceitful politicians and their grovelling sycophants, as well as corrupt public and private sector officials, might try to hide their crimes, investigative journalists will unearth the facts and establish the truth through this scientific approach to journalism.

Assange says that WikiLeaks has released more classified documents than the rest of the world press combined: “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,” he said recently.

 

Dumisani Muleya

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