SMH asked The Question
Poll: Is WikiLeaks a force for good?
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THE LAWYER JENNIFER ROBINSON
Without question, WikiLeaks has made a remarkable contribution to free speech, human rights and the operation of democracy, by offering better protection to journalistic sources and by holding governments to account by revealing abuse and empowering the public to make better-informed democratic choices.
WikiLeaks’s publication of US cables revealing former Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s corruption and nepotism is said to have contributed to the ”jasmine revolution”, which saw him removed. In Egypt, WikiLeaks demonstrated that torture was a widespread police practice under the dictator Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was soon forced to resign. WikiLeaks also confirmed what West Papuan refugees living in Melbourne had long claimed: the Indonesian military is committing widespread human rights abuse against the indigenous Papuan population while being paid to provide security to the US-owned Freeport gold mine.
The Afghanistan and Iraq war logs revealed facts kept from the public by governments supporting the continued war effort. WikiLeaks showed that our government continues to send troops to die in a “train wreck” of a conflict despite knowing our military objectives are unachievable. For this work, Julian Assange was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize and WikiLeaks has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
WikiLeaks has been accused of illegal activity and putting lives or national security at risk, despite NATO and the Pentagon admitting no lives have been lost – and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates conceding the cable release posed no threat to security and was merely an ”embarrassment”. It is politically easier for politicians to persist in false accusations of crime and risk to national security than to deal with the content of the cables that reveal their own corruption and abuse of power.
Protection of journalistic sources is a basic condition for press freedom, yet legal protections for sources are inadequate the world over. WikiLeaks provides better protection for journalists and their sources by providing a high-security anonymous drop box. The inherent value and “good” in what WikiLeaks does is proved by the fact mainstream media organisations are replicating WikiLeaks’sdrop-box model.
As a human rights and media defence lawyer, to me it is an incontrovertible fact that WikiLeaks is a force for good, for revealing human rights abuse and protecting the human rights of journalists and their sources.
Jennifer Robinson is a lawyer at Finers Stephens Innocent, London, and has been advising Julian Assange.
THE ACADEMIC MICHAEL FRASER
Publication is not its own justification. In our democracy we value and protect the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. But we limit even these rights where we need to balance them against other important rights that we also enjoy as citizens. Freedom of speech is actually limited in many ways in Australia. Defamation law protects a person’s reputation from unwarranted attacks; privacy law protects our personal information; suppression orders and the law of contempt of court support the administration of justice and the right to a fair trial; censorship maintains a community standard of decency. Making threats and expressions of hatred and vilification are illegal. In a democracy we also allow our government the right to keep some matters secret in advancing the public good.
Traditional news publishers are champions of the public’s right to know. Nevertheless they responsibly use professional judgment and the journalist’s code of ethics to weigh competing rights and decide which stories to publish and which they will not publish.
WikiLeaks is also a publisher, but it has not held to traditional media standards.
People are dying in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Our government has asked Australians to support these wars with their lives and taxes. WikiLeaks has published government’s assessments of the wars and it was right to do so. This is information we have the right to know.
However the purpose of WikiLeaks’ mass publication of hundreds of thousands of other classified diplomatic communications is avowedly to strangle the flow of US government internal communications and cripple the ability of the US to conduct international diplomacy and statecraft. It is a political attack on US communications and the outcome will be more government secrecy. That is not in the public interest.
WikiLeaks is a publisher and it should be transparent. What is WikiLeaks’ governance and financial structure and who controls the organisation? What is their editorial policy and what is WikiLeaks’ code of ethics? Why doesn’t WikiLeaks publish the same kind of leaks from other nations? How can a reader make a complaint to WikiLeaks? When we are able to hold WikiLeaks to account to the same standards as other news media then we will know how to read them with more confidence.
And let us not forget Private Bradley Manning who is in a deep, dark hole.
Professor Michael Fraser is director of the Communications Law Centre at UTS.
THE ACTIVIST STUART REES
The WikiLeaks revelations are a watershed in decades of struggles to unmask what really occurs in the conduct of powerful people and institutions, in governments, corporations and the military.
Julian Assange’s creativity, plus the courage and initiatives of whistleblowers, has made a significant contribution to the global understanding of democracy and the promotion of human rights. WikiLeaks cables have exposed corruption, demystified the activities of diplomats and emphasised the indispensability of freedom of speech. Its revelations have encouraged movements across the Middle East to resist oppression and to advocate universal human rights and democracy.
The controversy highlights a struggle between violent and non-violent philosophies and practices. Bogus claims about national security have been used for decades to conceal militaristic ways of thinking and acting, as shown in the 2007 video of murder from a helicopter over Baghdad. Emphasis on transparency in government, on holding governors accountable and on freedom of speech illustrates the non-violent alternatives in policy-making of all kinds.
Powerful people’s ”we must seek revenge” reaction to Assange and Private Bradley Manning, the US soldier due to be tried over the alleged leaking of US government secrets to WikiLeaks, shows the threat it poses to centuries-old assumptions about government: that only a few can comprehend the mysteries of Whitehall, Washington or Canberra or even of corporate boardrooms or the governing bodies of universities.
It looks as though powerful people – politicians, media commentators, senior managers – have been given a painful laxative that is having such an effect they’re running around crying that we’ll all suffer if they have to take the WikiLeaks potion again. On the contrary, all citizens, shareholders and students will benefit from a new transparency in governance. And there should be inestimable benefits for the powerful. If they’ve taken their WikiLeaks medicine, they should eventually get better.
Once they recover from the pain and embarrassment, they may even be grateful that all the energy needed to keep secrets and pretend that they always acted in people’s best interests will no longer be required.
Stuart Rees is professor emeritus of the University of Sydney and director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.
THE ANALYST CARL UNGERER
WikiLeaks has been a force for good in the world, but not for the reasons Julian Assange and his band of international cheerleaders think.
Some of the leaked material has been mildly embarrassing for political leaders. But it has not, as I suspect the Assanganistas really wanted, brought down any Western government, or forced any change in Western foreign policy.
Ironically, WikiLeaks has managed to achieve what 30 years of international diplomacy failed to do – namely, unite China, Iran, Australia, the US and many others against a common enemy.
Most of these documents are either so obscure as to be irrelevant or simply well-crafted commentary on things that most people either knew or suspected anyway.
So the real ”exposure” of the WikiLeaks documents is not that the Americans have made occasional mistakes in the conduct of military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. The value of WikiLeaks has been in exposing the hypocrisy and duplicity of the various anti-American, anti-Western governments around the world.
So we learn that several Arab countries are just as keen for the Americans to bomb the Iranian nuclear program as Israel is.
We learn that China’s internet hacking activity is both widespread and state controlled.
The documents also reveal that the Karzai government in Afghanistan is corrupt and that the Russian government is linked to organised crime.
The breathless over-reaction by the mainstream media to anything that has a ”secret” classification on it shows they are incapable of sorting the important national security ”wheat” from the low-grade gossipy ”chaff”.
Here in Australia, the media focus on spelling errors in the US military files on David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, rather than the more important question of how the intelligence material gathered from al-Qaeda terrorists in Guantanamo Bay was crucial in the operation to find and kill Osama bin Laden.
Ultimately, WikiLeaks may not be as important to international politics as the more recent release of the Palestine papers by the al-Jazeera network. The papers reveal that the current Palestinian leadership is pragmatic and prepared to negotiate with Israel. It is only on that basis that a final resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can be built and one that would have real consequences for international peace and security.
Dr Carl Ungerer is director of the national security program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former senior intelligence analyst at the Office of National Assessments.