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Wednesday, 21 May 2014 17:02

Wikileaks and The Intercept clash over censorship - spot the real media hero Featured

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When whistleblowers clash over whether information should be censored from the public then alarm bells should be ringing in the heads of all free thinkers. In this particular instance we are talking about an organisation headed by a political prisoner and another spearheaded by an acclaimed prize winning journalist.

Of course we are talking about two giants in the whistleblowing community - Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald - both of whom work for very different organisations.

Assange, who heads up Wikileaks, has been a political prisoner, held without charge, for more than three years, including almost two years in the tiny Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Wikileaks has also been treated as a pariah organisation cut off from the usual avenues of international funding from would be donors.

The story of Greenwald is somewhat different. When the Edward Snowden NSA scandal broke, Greenwald was a reporter for the highly respected leftist news publication The Guardian, and was accorded all the protections that come with being associated with the establishment mainstream media.

Rather than being treated as a pariah by the establishment, Greenwald was lauded and feted as a heroic, fearless journalist. A bit of a naughty boy perhaps - his boyfriend was detained by British customs - but a mainstream media icon nonetheless.

Then late last year Greenwald was offered the opportunity of a stake in his own multimillion dollar media organisation focussing on corruption by a benevolent billionaire called Pierre Omidyar, with a promised $250 million in funding. The publication that Greenwald heads, called The Intercept, founded in February 2014, is part of that organisation.

Now here is where the story gets interesting. It is a story of publishing without fear nor favour versus voluntary self-censorship.

The Intercept a couple of days ago published a report sourced from Edward Snowden that identified two countries where all telephone conversations were being surveilled. One country, The Bahamas, was named but the name of the other country was withheld on the grounds that “credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”

This has incensed Wikileaks and Assange, which have accused The Intercept and its owner of censoring information that the inhabitants of the hitherto unknown nation has a right to know.

Now here’s the question - who’s right? The publisher who withholds information concerning a nation of people on grounds that some persons may get hurt if the information became public or the publisher who believes in the free flow of information, regardless of the consequences?

There is certainly a case of withholding information in times of declared war - few would argue with that. However, regardless of the so-called “war on terror” we are not in a state of declared war. A country’s citizens have a right to know if their phone conversations are being recorded and spied upon. If the culprits who are involved in spying are in danger if they are discovered, then perhaps they should have chosen another profession.

Wikileaks has accused The Intercept and its owner First look Media of censorship. It is hard to argue otherwise, almost as hard as it is to make a case for keeping a publisher and truth-teller unjustly incarcerated for several years without charge.

Glenn Greenwald may go on to win more Pulitzer Prizes while Assange continues to languish as a political prisoner under house arrest. However, such prizes have degenerated to the status of meaningless media oscars while the real journalists and prisoners of conscience such as Assange can justly wear their battle worn scars as badges of honour.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

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