Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Assange: Arresting the fourth estate



He looked a shock, bearded, unsettled and worried. But Julian Assange's time had come.

Julian Assange appears at Westminster Magistrates Court (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)Ecuador's Moreno administration was knee deep in the INA Papers affair. The country's national assembly had expressed an interest in investigating allegations of offshore financing through a Panama company. Who better to blame than the man behind WikiLeaks, despite the obvious point that he had ceased being publisher-in-chief, had been under surveillance, ailing and restricted in terms of communication and contact? WikiLeaks had no doubts: a 'high level source within the Ecuadorean state' had suggested earlier this month that the offshore scandal would be used 'as a pretext' to remove a troublesome tenant.

In his address explaining the termination of Assange's stay and surrender to the London Metropolitan Police, Lenín Moreno was disingenuous. He praised his country's generosity and respect for 'the principles of international law, and of the institutions of the right of asylum'. Such praise was merely the prelude for its breach. It was Assange who had misbehaved in being 'discourteous' and 'aggressive', his organisation 'hostile and threatening' to Ecuador. Assange, he reproached, refused to observe 'the norm of not intervening in the internal affairs of other states'.

Efforts to disabuse and deflect any notions of Assange being a persecuted publisher of courage were immediately made by UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt: Assange was 'no hero and no one is above the law. He has hidden from the truth for years.' The point is telling, given that Assange is the one accused of being in denial of the truth, rather than the military and political establishments he has proven so adept at exposing.

Ever prior to Cablegate, WikiLeaks was the subject of a multi-pronged effort of investigation across several security agencies in the United States. Critics scoffed and presumed Assange was suffering from traditional paranoia and self-importance. All he needed to do was face the charge of skipping bail for refusing to be extradited to Sweden. Yet a mere few hours after Assange found himself in a van leaving the embassy, a US extradition request was unsealed.

The lawyers had been careful. Assange is not being prosecuted as a journalist, which would bring up freedom of press issues under the First Amendment, but as a hacker under the single charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. As the document notes, 'Assange, who did not possess a security clearance or need to know, was not authorised to receive classified material from the United States.'

The conspiratorial link is Chelsea Manning, who downloaded material from four databases belonging to US departments and agencies. Assange is accused of having made a 'password cracking agreement' ostensibly to obtain 'a password stored on United States Department of Defence computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network'. This agreement would 'facilitate Manning's acquisition and transmission of classified information related to the national defence of the United States so that WikiLeaks could publicly disseminate the information on its website'.


"His form of scientific journalism, as he terms it, assisted by secure disclosures and collaborative reporting, have made him the publisher par excellence."


You do not have to be a card carrying member of the radical transparency credo to appreciate the dangers of this prosecution exercise. You do not even have to like the man and take up pen to dedicate a hagiography. What we are facing is an attack on the fourth estate, one rebooted and refined by Assange's efforts to facilitate the disclosure of classified material to expose abuses of power.

His form of scientific journalism, as he terms it, assisted by secure disclosures and collaborative reporting, have made him the publisher par excellence. As Edward Snowden observed rather aptly, 'Assange's critics may cheer, but this is a dark moment for press freedom.' Jesselyn Radack, a US attorney specialising in national security and human rights, makes the plausible claim that traditional papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and the Guardian are at risk.

Not all are convinced, and there are some traditional stalwarts in the press corps who persist in thinking Assange is a pretender and usurper. The aristos such as the Washington Post can still feature views arguing Assange is not a free press crusader and should be 'personally' held to account. This tallies with the assessment of District Judge Michael Snow who, without fanfare, found Assange guilty of skipping bail while concluding that he was a 'narcissist ... who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest'.

The extradition process promises to be long, and a few sane assessments in British politics suggest that the May government won't have it all its way. Labour's leader Jeremy Corbyn had nailed his colours to the mast, insisting that the extradition of Assange to the US 'for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government'. Then there is the oft and undeservedly mocked Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who accurately surmised that Assange's arrest had not been done 'to protect US national security' but 'because he has exposed wrongdoing by US administrations'.

As a harried Assange was being dragged from the embassy, he sported a book visible through the scrum of security personnel. It was Gore Vidal's The History of the National Security State, a gift from Italian investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi. Vidal, like Assange, was a critic of the excesses of US power. And Vidal, like Assange, was relentless in exposing it. While Vidal was left in relative, unmolested bliss to compose his spearing critiques, Assange is facing prison for taking up arms. The National Security State is making its effort to strike back.



Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Main image: Julian Assange appears at Westminster Magistrates Court (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden



submit a comment

Existing comments

“What we are facing is an attack on the fourth estate…a dark moment for press freedom…traditional papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and the Guardian are at risk.” No way! The mainstream media has very little credibility. Post-Robert Muller, we now know that for more than two years, 90% of the mainstream media were trafficking in collusion lies they got from biased informants. They trafficked in propaganda and were quite content to print whatever material made Donald Trump look bad. In fact, The Washington Post and the New York Times won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia. And the NYT’s 1932 Pulitzer for Walter Duranty’s covering up of Stalin’s mass murder in the Ukraine still hangs on their wall, despite decades of pleas from Ukrainians. I don’t support the hacking that took place. But I find it ironic that the media gets rewarded for lies, yet Assange may go to jail, even though it has never been shown he ever published anything other than the truth.

Ross Howard | 12 April 2019  

A very good article. It is interesting, as others have noted, that the Obama administration considered this very charge and rejected it, recognising that this was effectively conduct designed to protect a source - ie good journalism practice. The government in Washington is so brazen now that it doesn’t care how it appears to the outside world. Sadly, there seem to be few who value journalism enough to speak out (even among those who were happy enough to collect money and awards from the Wikileaks revelations). I think we can safely assume that anyone trying to hold the powerful to account in any meaningful way has a bleak future ahead of them. It would be interesting to see how this would have played if this had been an arrest of a dissident journalist by someone like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping.

Justin Glyn SJ | 12 April 2019  

once again I point out the fact that we Australians have no bill of rights. Why are we so silent???

edward m | 15 April 2019  

Having read this article I am unconvinced that the claim made - that the arrest of Julian Assange is an attack on the fourth estate - is a supportable proposition. As Peter Greste, who one would expect is both well placed to judge and has a declared high degree of sympathy on this matter, wrote in the SMH on the weekend “To be clear, Julian Assange is not a journalist, and WikiLeaks is not a news organisation. There is an argument to be had about the libertarian ideal of radical transparency that underpins its ethos, but that is a separate issue altogether from press freedom”. Whatever you think of Wikileaks, conflating it with journalist freedom is confused at best. Defenders of Assange and Wikileaks need to make their case without false wrapping. Freedom of the press, like freedom of speech, is too an important issue to be used this way.

Byron Pirola | 15 April 2019  

Bravo, Binoy & Justin! And great to see a Jesuit journal standing up for truth in reporting!

Michael Furtado | 15 April 2019  

Journalists are so self important. They are not in any meaningful sense a profession. They fulfil no essential social function. And Assange is not one of them in any event.

Bob | 15 April 2019  

Thank you, Binoy.

Stephen de Weger | 15 April 2019  

And our alignment with U.S attitudes, policies and strategies are such we have our government, in "our national interest" it says, persecuting Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery for attempting to tell the truth about our spying on Timor L'Este , a shameful, dishonesst grab for economic gain and the interests of commercial operators like Woodside Petroleum. The two defendants face a Kafkaesque trial attempting what Assange did successfully - exposing sinister government foreign action. As Assange is experiencing, internationally, the Australian government is well advanced on destroying the two Australian patriots , emotionally and materially - with no reprisals for those actually responsible. We live in shame, as do all who fail to defend Julian Assange's feat of exposing U.S exploits.

Brian Davies | 15 April 2019  

Dr Kampmark should read the article by Peter Greste in the Fairfax papers last Saturday, in which he explains why Assange is not a journalist, and why his arrest does not raise any freedom of the press issues.

Michael Dunne | 15 April 2019  

My concern is for the two Swedish women that Julian Assange allegedly sexually assaulted. His hiding away for all these years means that they have been denied justice. I also feel some sympathy for the embassy staff. If the reports are correct, then living in a small space with someone who apparently thought that smearing the wall with his faeces was Ok would have been hard going.

Sandra Houghton | 15 April 2019  

I sympathise with your main argument, Sandra. However Sweden has an extradition treaty with the US and that's what Assange sought to avoid. Also, people in jail commonly demonstrate antisocial behaviours.

Michael Furtado | 15 April 2019  

Whether or not Assange is a journalist is irrelevant because ina well-functioning democracy, journalists should not require exclusive legal privileges and excemptions to do their jobs. In fact, in Australia, I’m not aware of any laws that protect journalists that ordinary citizens could not also call on to justify acting in the public interest. Journalists are not registered and don’t require licences to practice. The legitimacy of the content they produce should be obvious through the way they present their information and identify the sources of their information. Assange has clearly bypassed the need to identify sources of information by simply publishing the raw original data itself - straight from the source! In the case of atrocities he’s revealed about human rights violations in Iraq, we have every right to know about this.

Aurelius | 15 April 2019  

Snowden, Assange and Browder offer us all so much through their courage. This is an imporatant story and well done for staying on it. Snowden exposed the governments criminality and now lives in exile. Assange is destined for a US prison. A warrior ahead of his time. Those that do not give this issue time or worse, believe it to be inconsequential do not understand the depravity of human history, both experienced and narrowly averted. Look no further than the surveillance state that China is constructing currently.

Patrick | 15 April 2019  

The rape charges in Sweden against Assange maybe reinstated. Why are the majority of white Australians glorifying this person? The Australian govt is always quick to help one of their own race, so no doubt he will be coming home soon. It is carefully orchestrated. Ed, as for the Human Rights Act_if there’s a Human Rights Act, whites wont be able to live the life of Riley they currently have_this would mean white job reservation, racial salaries and wages, white capital interests (minimum two properties_one home and one in country) etc would disappear as whites would get paid what they are really worth not according to their skin tone. We have been raising our rights since 2009 as whites take the credit for our work and we can’t do anything about it as there is no law and no media will publish it. Cartel structures finetined from the prison colony days which have been sanitised and made mainstream to plunder the educated dark skinned through exploitation and robbery, with whites turning a blind eye. I gather Assange will be coming back to do human rights in a ‘one sided Australian way’, which does nothing for us, merely restructuring the ‘everything for white’ architecture rather than dismantling it! Educated citizens like myself and my family are deceived into thinking its a US or UK, with Australians telling us there no racism, it will be better in your next job, etc all the while deceiving us while we are being plundered to build white self belief and white prestige at the expense of our family. We wish we knew what quality of Australians were, we would not have come here. But as they say here -deceit is only a crime if you are caught and then there is no law.

Jacqueline | 16 April 2019  

Sandra Houghton dares to drag out the non existent Sweden case, there were never any charges, there would never be any charges because there was no offence as the police and prosecutors clearly stated before he left Sweden after talking to the police. There were never going to be charges because it's illegal in Sweden to name any person alleged to have committed a sex crime before they are charged, the Swedish media and PM slandered and libelled Assange before he was ever charged with anything. Assange was in the embassy because Chelsea Manning has just been sent to a dungeon for 35 years and Julian was rightly terrified he would face the same time and the only reason the ''warrant'' was illegally issued is because Marianne Ny changed the rules three days after the police had cleared him of any wrong doing. Do all those bringing up the same tedious lies get that the only reason he was trapped in the embassy was because of the UK police? The media reported those facts last February, the fake warrant had to be dropped because it was illegally issued. After 7 years of lies and abuse of power what more justice does Sandra want? Julian's head on damn pike?

Marilyn | 16 April 2019  

Marilyn, I agree with Sandra Houghton. Maybe if it was your daughter in that rape case, you would have a different viewpoint. Lets not forget Australia was a prison colony which has been deceitfully covered up to the outside world_I mention this as I have spoken to numerous overseas white females over the decades who had appauling experiences with white Australian men, unaware of the fact Australia was a prison colony. One white woman I spoke to two weeks ago married an Australian decades ago and his brother abused their son. She said to me she told him why did marry her and not leave her alone. She had no idea about Australia nor his family history. After his numerous affairs and the abuse of her son, they divorced. White Australians must be honest and admit and tell the world of their prison roots and traits so overseas especially females can make informed decisions rather than be deceived. Going back to the Assange matter, the below article states “It is a scandal that a suspected rapist can escape justice and thereby avoid the courts,” Elisabeth Massi Fritz told Agence France-Presse in an email. “My client is shocked and no decision to [end the case] can make her change [her view] that Assange exposed her to rape.” Please read the full article below: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/may/19/swedish-prosecutors-drop-julian-assange-investigation

Jacqueline | 16 April 2019  

Does the US want Assange enough to sign a trade agreement with a UK that desperately needs deals with major trading nations to make up for Brexit? Does Downing Street have the stuf to go outside the envelope in proposing such a thing to a president who relishes pushing envelopes?

roy chen yee | 16 April 2019  

The assertion of Dr Kampmark that Mr Assange practises scientific journalism, an assertion that seems to be the basis of his argument, lacks evidence. Your choice of an illustration of Mr Assange blessing the reader in the style of Cardinal Pell is in poor taste, unless you want us to see him giving the reader the two fingers.

Trevor | 18 April 2019  

Thank you Binoy Kampmark for your defence of Julian Assange. Whether Julian Assange is deemed to be a journalist or not is not the issue. The fact is that his work at Wikileaks exposed the perpetrators of war crimes and corruption and for this people who value peace, human rights, social justice and democracy thank him. People like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Witness K and Bernard Collaery must have known that their actions to expose corruption, war crimes and unfair actions carried with it a great risk and yet they did it. They are to be applauded for their courage and dedication to the truth. Recent history has shown us that we cannot expect much justice from the current leaders of the US and the UK and the betrayal and gutlessness of the Australian LNP Coalition and the ALP Opposition is deplorable. They have completely reneged on their responsibility to defend the human rights of an Australian citizen I would hope that the Nobel peace Committee would consider awarding these courageous whistle-blowers with Nobel Peace Prizes for their service to peace and humanity. This is going to be a big test of British law and its real independence from a very flawed government. And a big thank you to Eureka Street for being prepared to publish an article about a very important issue related to justice and human rights.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 18 April 2019  

Great article - very informative - thank you.

Val | 20 April 2019  

Similar Articles

When quitting Twitter isn't an option

  • Neve Mahoney
  • 10 April 2019

Social media can cause poor mental health outcomes, and there is evidence that it is designed to be addictive. But given my line of work, deleting my accounts is not something I can realistically do. With many choosing to walk away, what can those of us who stay do to ensure a healthy relationship with these platforms?


The Murdoch press and the end of critique

  • Mark Jennings
  • 03 April 2019

Two recent stories in the Australian attack Murdoch University academics who supposedly described Anzacs as 'killers' and detainees on Manus Island as 'prisoners'. The stories display a poor understanding of the academic role, and the nature of 'critique', which is not to merely to present all arguments as if they had equal merit.