He has been described as a terrorist and a criminal by critics, but as a hero and a purveyor of truth by his supporters. On Saturday WikiLeaks announced on Twitter that the public face of their group, Julian Assange, had decided to run for a seat in the Australian Senate. A defiant move by a man under house arrest and whom the US are trying to extradite to face criminal charges.
Whatever your views of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, he has introduced debate, controversy and a new breed of journalism, which questions democratic governments by giving whistle-blowers a voice. WikiLeaks, which facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information, claims it is championing free speech; others disagree and feel national and global security is being put at risk.
Assange says his group provides a safe environment for whistle-blowers to speak out on matters of public interest (this usually involves distributing classified documents). Journalists working for WikiLeaks “analyse the material, verify it and write a news piece about it describing its significance to society”. The site then publishes the original material alongside the journalist’s article, allowing the reader to form their own analysis of the story within its original context. So far they have published material about extra judicial killings in Kenya, toxic waste dumping in Cote d’Ivoire, Guantanamo Bay procedures and Iraq and Afghan War documents.
His mode of journalism (one might argue it is freedom of speech) has attracted as many supporters as it has critics and Assange is currently under house arrest. In 2009 his investigative journalism earned him a media award from Amnesty International for his investigations into extra judicial killings in Kenya. Others see Assange as less of a journalist (he doesn’t follow the same rules) and more of a newsman and a politician. Perhaps he is both of these things, or a new kind of journalist, one who doesn’t play by the rules and in doing so brings issues to light which would otherwise remain buried in democracy.