Rough Transcript of Speech
It’s quite a bittersweet kind of situation to be standing outside The Guardian and wondering what they are the guardians for, whether they are the Guardian is for the deep state, and for those who have killed and murdered and tortured civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether they are the guardians for the kinds of values that we expect journalism to espouse.
And in terms of these values that we expect journalism, to help us to uphold, the person who comes foremost to our minds in terms of courage, in terms of leadership, in terms of huge amounts of vision and strategy is Julian Assange, who currently sits in Belmarsh maximum security prison in a COVID infested wing, with over 50 other prisoners affected by COVID. And where more and more people affected by COVID are moved to his wing, in order to put him at risk, in some ways is the worry.
And it is at this point that we are gathered here today outside The Guardian to ask The Guardian to remember who it is supposed to guard and whose interests it is supposed to safeguard.
What Julian did was unique, it was remarkable. It was fantastic in terms of what Wikileaks provided to the world of journalism to the ecosystem of journalism. It allowed us to understand not just what is happening at times of war, as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it times a piece in places like the Ivory Coast where Trafigura was dumping waste, toxic waste, and in other parts of the world where regimes were engaging in all kinds of improper behaviour that worked against the interests of their own citizens.
One of the innovations that Wikileaks provided was this idea for digital Dropbox, something that we all take for granted nowadays, when we use our information technology, but when Wikileaks brought it to light at the time, it was a path breaking innovation. And this path breaking innovation, provided security, not just for the whistleblowers, whose interests we definitely need to protect in a democracy, because otherwise, how are we supposed to know what’s really going on, but also, security of the documents that the whistleblower provided in order to ensure they were not tampered with in order to ensure they were, what they were supposed to be, and encryption, in terms of anonymity and security, was really very, very important at the time.
70 variations of the WikiLeaks model now exist around the world. And they are being used extensively by corporates, anti corruption, campaigners and others. And this is quite important, because it is happening across 29 different countries. So what we can WikiLeaks and Julian Assange set out to do, has become a reality for most of us. Whether it is the Dropbox or whether it is this idea of encryption and security in our electronic communication is something we were not very conscious of before Julian.
Wikileaks also provided some kind of protection against digital breadcrumbs, which were little bits of data that accidentally or intentionally could reveal who the whistleblower was. And this was something new and different and important. And it mainstreamed what we call data journalism. This is not a term I’m familiar with. I’m not a journalist, and I came across it through some of the readings I’ve been doing, where you can get the full dataset as a link from the story. And this, to me seems very resonant to the kind of work I do as an academic researching information, where we don’t just look at other people’s analysis of thing, as you could, we actually look at the source data to understand whether that analysis is sound, and to make up our own minds, and this was something new and different that Wikileaks achieved.
And this phenomenal contribution to the ecosystem of journalism is something that also sparked global collaborative journalism. When you look at the Panama Papers and the paradise papers, these are not ideas that were well used before Wikileaks brought together their media partners to release information about various aspects of the Iraq War Logs or the Afghan war diaries. What this does, in terms of providing this information, is it combats the power of large conglomerates, large online, journalistic organisations that are controlled by a very small number of people who allow a certain small range of discourse.
It enhances journalistic freedom and the public’s right to know, the right to know about the crimes that our governments and our corporations commit with our money in our name. And it helps to hold them to account.
It also gives whistleblowers courage, because it helps them to reveal some of the real deep seated details, but none of us can understand the significance of, if we were to view in isolation, because we don’t work on these things on a daily basis. WikiLeaks, its contributions adding structural changes to the global media system, allowing new voices encouraging an archive approach to journalism and refreshing sources and providing renewed attention to digital literacy.
And it was also a very powerful response to surveillance capitalism, where the state surveilled us now with Wikileaks, we citizens could surveil the states and police misbehaviour by criminals, criminals who use their positions of power to classify documents, which reveal their crimes. Criminals who sit, you know, like Obama and Blair and others do droning, destroying other countries, wiping out civilizations, and then protecting the discovery of those crimes by pretending it is classified and asking us to respect those norms, which they set. And this is why Wikileaks with its courage with its bravery, with Chelsea’s courage with Edward Snowden’s courage with the courage of so many other whistleblowers was important and different.
It allowed us to cut through the PR provided by the military industrial complex, and look at the reality of war, the horror of war, the torture, the murder, the abduction of civilians, like Khalid el Masri, who was on the [North] Macedonian border, a German citizen on holiday abducted from a bus rendited by the US, to a CIA black side and then elsewhere, and on route sodomised, tortured, even when they discovered that it was mistaken identity, they didn’t release Khalid al Masri because they did not want others to embarrass them, or for their sins to come to light.
And it is for these ordinary people that we stand outside the Guardian, and ask The Guardian to guard the civilians whose lives have been endangered in Iraq, in Afghanistan in so many parts of the world, by US war crimes, and by the British state, being complicit in suppressing the one person who provided an example to the rest of us, the one person who set an example for journalism, which was this journalism of honesty, in the interest of citizens. So Guardian, please wake up, remove the false allegations on your website. walk in the footsteps of your colleagues who have started to open their minds to the reality of how Julian was stitched up and stand strong to guard, the serious values the journalism is supposed to guard thank you.