How Many Whistleblowers Will Step up Now?
While Julian Assange has doggedly been presented as a divisive figure, this approach has no bearing on the impact his potential extradition and mistreatment will have on publishing, journalism or the freedom of the press, however you choose to call it. But more so, on the freedoms you will forgo.
None of the hundreds of thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks have been disputed because they are the verified truth. They have provided a lens into what goes on behind the scenes of governments, corporations and the system we all vote to participate in. These include purposeful civilian deaths which were denied until revealed, controversial arms deals and the true extent of corporate influence in politics to name a few. None of which, was suppressed to protect commercial interests, but to the benefit of the unwitting public.
Place any other persona in this situation and the threat to uncovering truth remains. The threat to our future remains. When whistleblowing is clamped down upon, it leads to less transparency, more control over the flow of information by governments we elect and in turn, an ill-informed voter.
The messengers of this information, namely journalists and publishers, are being used as fodder. We saw the recent ABC raids linked to misconduct and unlawful deaths in Afghanistan, News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst was raided over files pertaining to proposed government access to bank records and digital communication. In San Francisco, Bryan Carmody was raided over the release of police reports in France and three journalists were threatened with imprisonment for revealing state involvement in the Yemen Civil War, all in the space of a month.
On top of all this, with the United States wielding Espionage Act charges against publishing for the first time since its inception in 1917, be not misled, this is a stark, calculated warning to journalists, whistleblowers and publishers of our time. The definition does not matter in this instance, as there are hundreds, if not thousands of investigative journalists who have received classified information from sources and gone on to publish without repercussions. But in an age of ‘fake news’ where trust in media is at a record low of 31% in Australia (as noted by the Edelman Trust Barometer), it’s favourable to have information in its original form rather than be subject to the biases of a reporter, in some instances. Why not leave it up to the public to see the facts from the horse’s mouths and make its own judgment?
Let us not forget that Assange is on trial to be made an example of. He has revealed far too much about the untoward practices of governments who we always suspect are not acting purely in the public’s best interest. But these facts pose a threat in a technological and information sharing age.
And that’s the kicker, there is power on the Internet and in leaking which has never presented itself to this extent in history.
More than ever, now is the time to sway public sentiment to validate people power and ensure this example does not go so far that it scares other whistleblowers from holding those committing such atrocities accountable.
As recently as last week, we have seen the impact of this clout on public perception. With nearly 2 million protestors in Hong Kong forcing a suspension of the proposed extradition bill to mainland China. Then in February, the unprecedented releasing of Hakeem al-Araibi from unlawful imprisonment in Thailand at the request of Bahrain. All on the back of international outcry and protesting. As always, the younger generation has caught onto what this means with their record attendance for climate change strikes in March – it works.
Again, there will always be power between the flow of true information and people. The clamping down of Assange, whistleblowers, publishers and the fourth estate, means the suppression of this stream and the right of the public to know. Real information which challenges unchecked authority and ensures an alternative to the ‘add, copy, delete or alter’ treatment.
With this momentous case, among notable others, it is not only an individual whose rights are on the line, but it is also the freedom of humanity to know what really goes on behind the state we entrust to provide us with the truth.
So we have to agree, with a life at stake for this inherent freedom, Julian Assange can’t be extradited to the US to face charges of 175 years in prison. Extradited by a country of which he is not a citizen. Because how many whistleblowers, from any corner of the world, will step up then?