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Best of 2010: Don't shoot the messenger, award him the Nobel Peace Prize


First published in Eureka Street on 6 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.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, wikileaks, julian assange, freedom of information, Hillary Clinton, cluster bombs



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Existing comments

Assange is a whistleblower and like so many other whistleblowers before him a powerful government is attempting to crush him with all their might. The ccusations hurled at him are thus highly suspect. Australians could make him Australian of the Yaer.
Joyce | 11 January 2011

Excellent interview-all support for Julian
Gillian Denny | 11 January 2011


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