WikiLeaks, Journalism is not a crime – Byline Festival 23.08.2019

An interesting discussion by past critics of Julian Assange, Nick Davies and Brigitta Jonsdottir that now defend him against US extradition, chaired by Vaughan Smith

It follows revelations by Mark Davis which you can watch here:

On the same day of the Byline talk, the following joint statement was published by Mark Davis and Nick Davies published in “Julian Assange smears fade as Wikileaks witnesses concede he was not reckless, did protect informants

Joint Statement by Mark Davis and Nick Davies

Since he launched Wikileaks 13 years ago, Julian Assange has worked with extraordinary commitment and bravery to force the darkest activities of governments into the open. He has exposed assassination, torture and the casual killing of civilians.

The current attempt to use the UK courts to drag Assange into the clutches of a foreign intelligence agency for his revelations is not just an abuse of the extradition process but a fundamental threat to journalism.

As two journalists who have worked with Julian, we have had disagreements with each other. But we can agree without equivocation that attempts to extradite Julian Assange need to be resisted in any conceivable legitimate way. Never mind past squabbles, never mind past disapproval: we must come out and defend him and the principles that are involved. All of us.

Nick Davies, London. Mark Davis. Sydney. 22 August 2019

Mark Davis Statement

I recently gave a talk about Julian Assange and the release of the Afghan War Logs in 2010. It has been widely circulated and commented upon. Some of the commentary has extrapolated upon things I said in a way that has disturbed me. With someone’s liberty at stake I wish to be very precise about what my observations were – more precise than was possible in an unscripted spontaneous speech.

There are key observations that I am prepared to testify to if Julian is hauled into an American courtroom. They relate to my recollection of assistance that was provided to Julian to facilitate the release of the US documents, Julian’s decision to redact the documents, Julian’s request for a delay to allow those redactions, Julian’s actions in redacting a large number of them and the order in which the documents were publicly exposed.

Nick Davies of the Guardian, a prime witness from that period, has recently engaged with me to challenge my account on a number of these topics. It is totally proper for him to do so. These key issues remain matters I would testify to in court and I won’t elaborate further upon them in any forum.

Separate to my key observations referred to above I want to clarify or correct a number of matters.

I made a number of characterisations of others that I regret. For many years I have been disgusted at how readily Assange’s actions have been misrepresented for a story, his character flattened into a caricature, his complexity simplified for a narrative.

In seeking to address that very issue I nevertheless flattened the character and motivations of others to speed through the telling. Davies and David Leigh were not the sole focus of my comments, in fact often they weren’t the focus at all, but they featured prominently in the footage I showed.

I have an array of opinions about each of them but I do not think either of them is a liar. For the avoidance of speculation this is not a statement in response to any legal threats.

I referred to a dinner. I said I was not there but I referred to accounts of the dinner that had been made by Davies. I accept that Davies has never claimed to have been there. Contrary to any impression I may have given I do not want to say that Davies has lied about that dinner or any other conversation with Julian which he has recounted in this context.

Information has been provided to me which I accept that I was not at the first meeting with the Guardian nor at the opening of ‘the bunker’. I accept that I wasn’t at every meeting at the bunker. But I was there with Julian on multiple occasions over several weeks leading up to the release.

I believe I was quite precise in confining my direct observations about Julian’s interactions with the journalists to the bunker. I am aware of other meetings, I don’t claim to have been at them and I do not challenge anyone’s account of them. I was with Julian for many weeks, intensely so in the final stages. Most of my commentary relates to that period.

I don’t retract the descriptions I gave of any interactions in the bunker but I do want to add some nuance to round them out properly and fairly.

It was a working production room with a deadline approaching, it was a not a philosophy class. My reference to gallows humour was meant with no particular venom – I have indulged in plenty of it myself. I did however draw certain conclusions about the interactions I saw.

My conclusions were more nuanced than the coarse description that “they didn’t give a stuff” about the implications of publishing the material. I did not mean to give the impression that the journalists were personally heartless.

The conversation I described between Davies and David Leigh was a conventional and legitimate one. Julian was not there but I did not suggest there was a conspiracy to speak in his absence. It was a straight-up discussion on what I viewed as the central dilemma about writing sensitive reports when the underlying unredacted documents were to be available online. Leigh’s response did concern me in the manner I described.

I came to the conclusion from observations at the bunker and elsewhere at that time that the news organisations were willing to let Julian be a ‘fall guy’ and insulate themselves from responsibility for the release of the material. I acknowledge the facts are complex, others who were involved do have widely divergent opinions on this but that is my opinion.

Despite our ongoing differences Nick Davies and I are in furious agreement on one thing – that the attempt to drag Julian Assange into the clutches of a foreign intelligence agency is not just an abuse of the extradition process but a fundamental threat to journalism. We have issued a joint statement to that affect.

Mark Davis
22 August 2019.

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