War on The Fourth Estate

Inspired by my friend and "partner in crime" Birgit article “Will Hacker Vigilantes and Wikileaks Inspire a New Generation of Cyber Warriors?” I’ve been looking into the issues of the current war on Wikileaks and journalistic freedom.

The recent shutdown of Wikilieaks' main site wikileaks.org, the refusal by Amazon and others to host their site, credit card companies blocking contributions, PayPal (an eBay company) cancelling their account and refusing to allow more payments, and the calls from some “democratic” politicians to “hunt down Assange” and some going so far as to suggest he should be assassinated, makes me wonder how far some governments and organizations are willing to go to protect their "secrets".

Coming from a country that endured 40 years of military rule, Spain, I have to admit my aversion to any kind of government secrecy, and especially abuse. In 1983 the Socialist led government of Spain initiated black-ops operations to hunt and kill some of ETA’s high profile members. The operations lasted for about 5 years. Later was proven they were financed using “reserved funds” by important officials of the Spanish Interior Ministry. After the involvement of government officials was exposed, mostly by the investigation and reporting of the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo, several officials were prosecuted for kidnapping, murder, abuse of government position, and illegal appropriation of funds from the Ministry. The Interior Minister, and the head of National Security, José Barrionuevo and Rafael Vera, respectively, were convicted of several charges, together with other members of their administration.

Was it right for “El Mundo” to disclose secret government documents, and to investigate the “dirty war” against a terrorist organization? Absolutely, it is their right and their obligation as journalists in a free society. If a news organization comes into possession of confidential documents that prove any wrongdoing by government or private organizations they need to disclose them.

In a recent editorial, The Nation’s editors say “By and large WikiLeaks has come to embrace the ethics that guide traditional news organizations' disclosure of secrets, and it should be afforded the same protections.”, and add “Critics characterize WikiLeaks' actions as indiscriminate document dumps, but at press time WikiLeaks had released only 1,095 cables, almost all vetted and redacted by its partner news organizations. WikiLeaks even asked the State Department to help redact the cables before they were released. It refused.” In the same editorial they point out “Over the past decade, our leaders have come to see secrecy as a casual right instead of a rare privilege.”

Is the US government going to shut down the New York Time’s website, freeze their accounts, and prosecute their editors? By the same token they have collaborated with Wikileaks in disclosing confidential information. Are the European governments going after The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais? I hope not. I’m happy to have my website with a .eu (European Union) domain, I believe in the European institutions for the time being.

I like the words of Dutch European MP Marietje Schaake in a recent interview:

Bloggers are basically the journalists of today and people are being imprisoned for the blogs they write or the way they use new media. It's just the reality in the new world - a reality that has not really been factored into the policies yet, and this would be a good moment to do so. […]The Wikileaks’ cases are a symptom of how the internet and technology changes democracy. What we should do is to rethink diplomacy, democracy and governance and see how we can make it much more open. Services like Wikileaks were developed in a climate of mistrust of government.

Article first published as War on The Fourth Estate on Blogcritics.

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