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Don't shoot the messenger, award him the Nobel Peace Prize

Michael Mullins |  06 December 2010

WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange are being demonised by what appears to be a slanderous propaganda campaign being waged at the highest levels of governments around the world. 

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has branded the release of secret information as 'an attack on the international community', and Assange is wanted by Interpol on account of dubious sex crimes.

Assange's character flaws are being exaggerated in order to shift the burden of shame from governments on to Assange himself. There is a possibility that the messenger will be shot, literally.  

Yet this year WikiLeaks has taught us valuable lessons about the suppression and manipulation of information, and how such activities pose a threat to the common good. 

This is how it goes. We accept a particular version of events because it is presented to us by a public figure or organisation we trust. That is how it should be. But public officials need scrutiny to ensure they are acting in the public interest, and not their own or that of a third party.

It's our right to query the benefit in being kept in the dark, for example, on the secret moves of US and UK officials to undermine the ban on cluster bombs. One of the cables released by WikiLeaks shows that the British Foreign Office suggested a loophole to allow the US to keep cluster bombs on British soil should be kept from Parliament.

It's likely that the geopolitical interests of the US and the UK were being put ahead of the lives of innocent civilians in war zones.

Such activities fly in the face of our humanitarian obligations. Yet the suppression of information about them is presented as being 'in the public interest'. 

In Australia, there is an implication that our national interest is being served by Australian Attorney-General Robert McClelland's vigorous investigation into whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has broken any laws. Arguably Assange deserves a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for upholding the value of transparency and the internationally protected human right to freedom of information.

In its inaugural session in 1946, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution — 59(I) — which stated: 

Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and and is the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated. [It] implies the right to gather, transmit and publish news anywhere. It is an essential factor in any serious effort to promote the peace and progress of the world.

The holding of information is an important aspect of the stewardship of public office. There are instances when the common good requires certain information to be withheld from the public. But WikiLeaks has demonstrated that the withholding of information by officials is often self-serving. It is designed more to keep the officials and their governments from embarrassment than to save innocent lives.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He also teaches media ethics in the University of Sydney's Department of Media and Communications.



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Submitted comments

Well said Michael Mullins. I could not agree with you more. Indeed, The Nobel Peace Prize for Julian Assange. You - and he - most certainly have my vote!

DAVID HICKS 06 December 2010

I agree with this article strongly. There has been a booming industry in PR and cover-up and some structure such as this that allows whistleblowers a voice and also protection, has been sorely needed. Politicians almost never answer questions but have set political lines that they unleash in regard to every question asked. While they call it the age of information, I think it is more accurate to think of it as the age of spin and verbal segue. Wikileaks has been thus far very beneficial in a number of scenarios and its founder should be applauded, not hounded.

I fear for his safety, however. Those that should be held accountable for their actions are out to get him, for they resent that Wikileaks makes them more accountable and exposes some of what they get up to. We need a campaign to protect Assange's rights and the rights of all those doing similar good deeds. Good article.

Wendy 06 December 2010

Well said, Michael.

Joe Castley 06 December 2010

Yes, Assange is being demonised by governments, but not by the press. Earlier on, Canberra Times's Jack Waterford must have been one of the first to point out that no laws were being breached; same thing with SMH, Le Monde, Marianne2, The Independent & Guardian, none of which have any trouble supporting him. I'm glad to see Eureka Street is with them AND says so too!

Nathalie 06 December 2010

The Nobel Prize is a great idea; what we are seeing is the 'unleashing' of state power against someone who has threatened the present hegemony. False accusations and charges by a compliant client state of the US, threats of imprisonment and even assassination, the shutting down of a website by unknown agents (why is there no outcry about this? Who are these 'cyber criminals' attacking freedom of speech?) and our own government spinelessly supporting an Australian citizen's persecutors.

It is unusual to see such raw exposure of the amoral power of governments when they fear that their actions are being scrutinised by their own citizens as we are now witnessing.
The attack on Assange and Wikileaks is a watershed; if it succeeds then the opportunity for ordinary citizens to monitor and limit the secrecy of governments (all governments, from Russia to the US to China) by means of the 'new media' will be lost and the cause of real democracy will be set back enormously.

And all he has done is to assist in the dissemination of the truth.

chris gow 06 December 2010

If not the Nobel (since Assange is 'wanted' in Sweden) we could surely honour him as The Australian of the Year. If only someone like Assange had been around circa 1938.

Joyce 06 December 2010

I found it interesting that Julia Gillard stated categorically that Assange's actions were "illegal" and then we find that the AG is checking to see if there were any laws broken. I think that says it all.

ErikH 06 December 2010

The "Wiki Leaks" have provided us with much interesting information which has largely confirmed what most thinking people already thought was the case. It should also be remembered that Wikileaks has published private and confidential information which has been stolen. If that information belonged to any private individual there would be outrage by civil libertarians. I would feel happier about Wikileaks and the call for a Nobel Prize if it had also published comparable leaks from other government sources. It seems to have a clear agenda against the US without any balance and is not balanced. Rather than serving the ends of peace it seems to be serving the enemies of the US. Although I also am sceptical about the charges against Assange, they are serious charges and it is all too convenient for those with an axe to grind against the US to ignore them. Are the Swedes also to be regarded as US puppets? Re the response from Australia to Wikileaks and the charges, I think that it is too early to comment.

Peter Anderson 06 December 2010

Julian Assange is not going to be the last Julian Assange. Although his business operates by surprise, he is anything but a terrorist. He is the Young Turk of the Terabyte. He simply demonstrates what governments and diplomats have known for a long time, digital information is mercurial, microscopic and not something you can leave in a vertical file for fifty years. Wikileaks is an incident waiting to happen. They already know there are other Julian Assanges ready to publish whatever an insider sends them on the scrubbed CD of a pop diva. They know that people’s emails, e-files, websites are all vulnerable to scrutiny, including their own. Governments, the military and diplomats should be more concerned about the insiders who leak top secrets than in the kind of modern journalist epitomised by Julian Assange. He is not an editor and he is not chasing a story. In another age this would have been called a fearless expose, but then I thought we were still living in that age.

I often think about Anne Boleyn and her raunchy letters to the Big Fellow. Would history have been different if they had been leaked to the Guardian? Probably not. Funny thing is, the rest of the world is wishing that they had thought of it first, that the Russian leaders are Batman and Robin, just as people in the Renaissance knew (without having to read anything) that Anne was one hell of a woman and Henry was in one hell of a fix. What’s new? Anne’s insightful opinion on Monday is treason by Thursday. The incidents will keep on keeping on, whether or not they send Julian Assange to the Tower, or stick his head on a spike at the City Gate. They will find Julian Assange before they find Osama Bin Liner. We’ll hear all about it.

Desiderius Erasmus 06 December 2010

It seems significant that the WikiLeaks denigrators all vent their spleen on Assange himself when obviously he has widespread support and his work will continue even if he is personally silenced. Clearly objections to his activities are due to blind hatred rather than principled objections and express the undemocratic nature of the critics. More power to Julian!

Gerry Harant 06 December 2010

Thank you for a nice article Michael, I liked Ted’s interview especially when he said that Julian’s organization had found a way to shine light on the dark secrets of companies and governments.

When addressing his disciples regarding the Pharisees Jesus said: Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known (Luke 12:2).

Julian seems to have an honorable ethic: “capable generous men nurture victims” but there is irony in using stolen information and perhaps aiding the often double edged intentions of the unknown sources of information.
I think the accused Governments need to respond with self-searching rather than with heavy handed calls for Julian’s arrest. They need to remember that ultimately their own integrity will affect their destiny.

The message of Jesus suggests that the right action will always eventually arise by itself!

Trish Martin 06 December 2010

When the attack is personalised you know that the attackers have something to hide.

nick agocs 06 December 2010

Thanks for this and the video interview - allowed me a good place to catch up on the unassuming creator of WikiLeaks....help to decide for myself what appalling reaction our Government via Attorney General is trying in the face of the work of this Australian/Global Truth activist.

Julie 06 December 2010

I wouldn't assume that the alleged sex crimes are 'dubious' simply because you agree with his stance on leaking information and others have an interest in discrediting him. Hagiography has its dangers.

Penelope 06 December 2010

Hear, hear.

Kathryn Crosby 06 December 2010

An excellent article which assisted me to clarify my own thinking on this subject. Because of the cover ups in our society today we need whistleblowers who should be be congratulated for their courage not hung out to dry. I hope Julian Assange is well protected because I fear for his life.

B. Scott 06 December 2010

I like it - Julian Assange for The Nobel Peace Prize and The Australian of the Year. Truly deserved.

Vacy Vlazna 06 December 2010

Thanks for a very helpful article in considering a complex issue which goes to the heart of principles of accountability and transparency – and thanks for the link to a great interview with Julian Assange.

Michael Mullins observes that “WikiLeaks has demonstrated that the withholding of information by officials is often self-serving” whilst acknowledging that “(t)here are instances when the common good requires certain information to be withheld from the public”.

The major criticism in this matter should be directed against governments who have at least failed to maintain security, and worse have been caught out in actions and reports that are often crudely manipulative and in some cases criminal. Worse still, these governments are trying to blame the messenger – a very credible messenger.

Assange seems to be demonstrably a courageous person and will likely be eliminated in some way by the very powerful interests he has embarrassed. While one must respect due process, the Swedish charges against Assange may well be part of this: what are the odds of such a person being conveniently subject to credibility-destroying charges at such a convenient time?

Peter Johnstone 06 December 2010

In the Ted interview, in the mass shooting clip, note the Australian voice identifying his unit as "Bushmaster 26".

Terry 06 December 2010

Regardless of the information released by Julian Assange, his actions were amoral and highly unethical. First off, the way he obtained the information was completely wrong. Like a cowardly theif in the night, he used stolen government documents.

In addition, he posted material that could lead to the harm of many individuals; wars may erupt as one country sees documents that pertain to the wrongdoings of the second country. Besides wars starting, these documents endanger the lives of those contained within the pages. What if a terrorist discovers his neighbor helped U.S. forces in Iraq? I can assure you, that neighbor will be torchured to death.

In general, sometimes "ignorance is bliss;" it would be far better for a terrorist to be ignorant about how his neighbor helped U.S. forces. Even further, a great deal of this information will not be understood by the general public. With this false understanding, and a great deal of missing links, people will come to "false conclusions." Overall, this whole ordeal was created to incite hate towards America and it's allies while boosting the fame of this coward, known as assange. Assange should never see freedom again (this would be a very generouse(sp.) sentance).

Jack 06 December 2010

Significantly NewsCorp seems to be less strident about Julian Assange so-called 'dissident' behaviour. Equally interesting is that the (Australian) media's breast-beating about the recent Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, yet (in the case Assange) they're turning into purveyors of political lynch mob to preserve OUR version of democracy. If the Australian government has any balls at all, indeed,it should nominate Julian Assange for the Nobel Peace Prize, his contribution to the unravelling of a politically artificial global power struggle (to feed the moguls and war lords). This is really fiction morphing into real life.

Alex Njoo 06 December 2010

An excellent article Michael.

I agree; Julian Assange deserves the Nobel Prize for disseminating truth. "Know the truth and the truth will make you free" The truth is always freeing, but blatantly stating the truth usually leads to the way of the cross.

Of course he is not perfect in everything, but at least disseminating the truth is always a good thing, and I hope he survives, as the main thrust of his work can only be good for the world

John Whitehead 06 December 2010

The bravest Australian ever - journalist Julian Assange.

Surely Robert Mclelland has trammelled the law. That is by saying that what Julian has done is illegal he and Julai Gillard for that matter have impaired the flow of justice. I would say they are both in contempt.

SimonPeter 06 December 2010

Ad hominem is alive and world in world affairs. Irrespective of whether Assange is innocent or guilty of the charges in Sweden, it alters not one iota of Wikileak's right to make public the issues and details that are of definitive public interest.

Our governments are essentially our employees via the election process, and must be subject to transparency and accountability in their behaviour insofar as they claim to represent our interests. To savage an entity promoting that very accountability is the behaviour of schoolyard bullies and their sycophants. We deserve better than self-serving defensiveness from our elected representatives and their agencies.

If you had an employee who was indulging in workplace bullying, embezzlement, working on side-projects during company time, inciting dischord and sometimes violence for dubious ends, you would sack them outright.

Governments should be held to an even higher standard.

Rik 06 December 2010

How I agree with you!

It is shocking how institutions, global companies and servers accept blackmailing ad threats from governments to help destroying Wikileaks. How afraid must all of them be that more mud will get stirred up.

The demonization and persecutin of Julian Assange reminds of what happened to OSHO, many, many years ago. The system is not interested in free information and people who use their own brain.
We must fight against this line, everywhere, in every country.

Wilma Allex, Austria 06 December 2010

I fear that further disclosures will confirm that governments:
1.Are resistant to truth
2.Inclined to injustice.
3.Shaped by men without ideals and without
4.Absurdly want to rule over others.
5.Forsake the citizenry.
6.Tend to become manifestly cunning and
excessively zealous.

Sir Thomas More was correct when he said:
" Men desire authority for its own sake that they may bear a rule, command and control other men, and live uncommanmeded and uncontrolled themselves".

John Keen 06 December 2010

i thoroughly agree.

Hilary 06 December 2010

I agree with Jack, and am astounded that the immaturity of Julian Assange has so many supporters. Defence security may have many flaws in the detail of its management, but is essential nonetheless, for reasons that are beyond the role of many folk to understand. "Smart" journalists and academics do this security a dangerous disservice when they back those with an axe to grind. David Hicks may have been badly treated, but that fact does not make him astute to judge our security needs, and information security is basic to them.

MARJORIE 06 December 2010

I find it strange he's not releasing any secrets of Russia,China,N.Korea,Iran etc So that shows he has a negative agenda towards just certain countries. Some secrets are better kept secret.

Phil Grove 06 December 2010

Absolutely, and for the next decade. The whining and hate of those embarrassed governments shows them up for the pack of liars they really are.

And our government had been utterly woeful.

Marilyn Shepherd 07 December 2010

Mr Mullins you write, "There are instances when the common good requires certain information to be withheld from the public."

Who precisely decides when this is should be done? The vast majority of posters here applaud Assange. But what happens when this self-appointed arbiter of the common good brings about harm? Who holds him accountable?

According to some reports today it seems that Wikileads has given details of installations that are vital to the US's interests. Many of these would be choice targets for terrorists.

There is a place for whistle-blowers. However, Assange is not discriminating enough in what he divulges. He may well do more harm than good. Time will tell. But I would not be awarding him any Nobel Prize for peace just yet.

Atticus 07 December 2010

Mr Mullins you write, "There are instances when the common good requires certain information to be withheld from the public."

Who precisely decides when this is should be done? The vast majority of posters here applaud Assange. But what happens when this self-appointed arbiter of the common good brings about harm? Who holds him accountable?

According to some reports today it seems that Wikileads has given details of installations that are vital to the US's interests. Many of these would be choice targets for terrorists.

There is a place for whistle-blowers. However, Assange is not discriminating enough in what he divulges. He may well do more harm than good. Time will tell. But I would not be awarding him any Nobel Prize for peace just yet.

Atticus 07 December 2010

Unfortunately it is very selective information being leaked.
No first hand information from Russia, France, Poland Africa, Zimbabwe etc, or for that matter, from any other non English speaking country.

So one has the impression that the publishers of the leak only wish to damage the USA, GB and the home country of Assange, - Australia.

So until the publishers can even it out a bit, they can expect a fair bit of flack from the USA, GB and Aus.

So withhold the Nobel Prize until it is shown that the party does not have a chip on his shoulder, to the disadvantage of his own country.

a kavanagh 07 December 2010

Those who complain Wikileaks has not released documents from Russia, China, France, North Korea and Iran have no case. Wikileaks is an English language news organisation. English! I imagine those who wish to defend the government of North Korea against its critics are also demanding: “Why do you complain only about our leaders? What about the evils in the West?”

Similarly, complaints about ‘stolen government documents’ are invalid. Who ‘owns’ information in democracies where government is of the people, by the people and for the people?
Excellent article, Mr Mullins.

Alan Austin 07 December 2010

I think Julia is the proud of Australia. Our world needs to be clear and honest. We should wipe the lying politicians out.

Julia Supportor 07 December 2010

You can still donate to Wiki Leaks through a few different companies: www/xipwire.com/wl

Lisa 08 December 2010

Which part of "these are leaked US cables" don't some people understand?

If Assange and others had leaked Russian and Chineese cable I have no doubt they would also be published.

Marilyn Shepherd 08 December 2010

I would strongly challenge the idea that freedom of information requires diplomatic cables to be published. Michael, you only gave one example in your article of a piece of information that does not merit secrecy. The majority of the WikiLeaks that I have come across are the opinions of foreign staff on the governments and poltiicians in the countries they are posted. Such information is generally not in the public's interest. I do not see the value in having everyone know what embassy staff think of certain leaders and foreign polcies, instead I see this as a hindrance to the work we want our diplomats to be doing.

Surely WikiLeaks will reveal a truth here and there that ought not to have been hidden. But not all of what has been revealed is appropriate and that, for me, makes Assange's actions seem far less laudable.

Ashlea 08 December 2010

Amazing twist of logic. Should !transparency! require that cabinet documents be made public the same evening rather than 30 years later? Should decisions of national security be in the public domain for debate- and in whose interests will they be debated. Some information , national, public, and even private does not have t0 be in the public domain stat. To argue that it should, while concealing ones own doings is to be logically schizophrenic. To allow unelected representatives to decide is impractical and self-delusion

Blaise 10 December 2010

I fully endorse the sentiments of Phil Grove.

John Tobin 10 December 2010

Say it again Michael and while we are at it lets nominate Julian for the Australian of the Year award and recognition.

David Ingerson 13 December 2010

Your article is excellent. And the title is fantastic. Let me say three things about this issue: 1.- The leaks show that too many governments are just PUPPETS of the U.S.Administration. 2.- U.S. goverments just think that they are THE masters of everybody. 3.- The great majority of governments (ours included) are hypocritical: they say one thing in private and the opposite in public.

JULIO GARCIA 13 December 2010

Well said Michael Mullins. We need to really be able to believe whether we are being told the truth by our governments, not have the wool pulled over our eyes.

Isabel M. 14 December 2010

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