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War on the Fourth Estate

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Inspired by my friend and blogging partner Birgit Nazarian’s article about Hacker Vigilantes and Cyber Warriors I’ve been looking into the issues of the current war on WikiLeaks and  journalistic freedom.

The recent shutdown of WikiLeaks’ main site (wikileaks.org), the refusal by Amazon and others to host the 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 WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange” with some going so far as to suggest he should be assassinated, make 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 five years. Later it was proven that 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 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 Times’s website, freeze their accounts, and prosecute their editors? By the same token the Times has 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 under 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. 

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About Pablo Valerio

  • @Ruvy,
    If you ask me if I believe a member of the military should download secret files, without any discrimination, and give them to the media, the answer is NO.
    However, if a member of the military comes into knowledge of abuse, practice of torture, violence against civilians, etc. he/she has the moral obligation to denounce those acts.
    In the name of security, and “military order” atrocities are committed everyday. The history of atrocities against the Jewish people is one of the best examples.
    I believe Ha’aretz is a responsible news organization, I read it as one of my sources of news. I don’t believe any journalist has to be punished for telling the truth.
    You mention in your comment “less than tasty operations”. Well, for me that is a problem. I have to agree that sometimes those operations might seem necessary to ensure a country’s security, but I believe that has to be the last resource.
    I was in your country several times and I believe and support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State, but I also believe in the Democratic values of the ONLY real democracy in the Middle East.
    What I try to convey in my post is that secrecy has to be the exception, not the rule. Look at “The Nation” editorial that I link in the article, and read about the size of “the secret government”. It’s scary!
    Feel free to email me @ frontwave.eu if you want to get in touch.

  • Ruvy

    I understand where you are coming from Pablo. For the most part I agree with you. I certainly support Julian Assange in his actions. On the other hand let me twist the hypothesis just a bit.

    Spain was under threat from the ETA. But it wasn’t under mortal threat of destruction. Similarly, the United States was under threat from the Communist states many years ago. But the leaks by the Washington Post relating to Watergate, did not place the United States under mortal threat.

    However a young soldier passed thousands of classified documents to a journalist from Ha’aretz, possibly endangering the State of Israel – mortally so. Some of these documents probably relate to less than tasty operations of the country’s two leading secret services, the Shaba”k and Mossad. Should the soldier go to jail? Should the Ha’aretz journalist? Should his editors who protected him?

    Bear in mind that at least 50,000 missiles are aimed at us from the north, and an unspecified amount are aimed at us from the south.

    Look up the case on Google or Yahoo!. My summary has been less than adequate here.