Leading Australian journalists have stepped up in a big way to defend WikiLeaks, with the head of the nation’s major media union arguing that "attacks on WikiLeaks can also be seen as attacks on the Australian media outlets which have worked with the organisation to publish leaked material."
In response to calls for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (an Australian) and attempts to block the distribution of leaked US diplomatic cables, Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren says: "Allegations that the work of WikiLeaks is somehow illegal are yet to be proven in Australia, or in any other country. The Alliance and (the International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific section) calls on governments to refrain from prejudicial speculation that risks harming our democratic system."
While most US journalists have been slow to defend WikiLeaks—and some have been openly critical of the website’s distribution of leaked US diplomatic cables—their Australian peers are pushing back against attempts to constrain freedom of information and the press.
Dozens of major newspaper editors, broadcasters and leading journalists have signed a letter defending Wikileaks, and the nation’s most respected senior journalists are condemning Australian officials—including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and federal Attorney General Robert McClelland—for suggesting that Assange broke the law by publishing the diplomatic cables.
"What they said was ridiculous," declared Laurie Oakes, a veteran newspaper and broadcast journalist who for years has been one of the nation’s highest-profile political commentators. "To brand what the WikiLeaks site has done as illegal when there is no evidence at all of any breach of the law, was I think, demeaning. I think as journalists we should make it clear that that is our view. Whether it’s a letterbox full of classified cables, or a quarter of a million documents in digital form, the principle is the same, and we should fight for the right to publish."
The Alliance’s Warren says: "This is an issue of freedom of the press. People have a right to information through the opportunities provided by the web. Journalists remain ready to fight for the principle of exposure journalism."
"Alliance members are behind Assange in his campaign to publish in the face of government attempts to curb the public’s right to know," adds the union leader and former journalist on leading Australian newspapers. "Assange has taken the ethical responsibilities of the press seriously by collaborating with established media outlets in order to withhold information that could threaten lives. His organisation has done nothing more than publish information that holds governments to account, and we stand by him in his right to do so."
American journalists have been slower to step up. And some have even joined Sarah Palin and others in attacking WikiLeaks at a time when key players in Congress are proposing official assaults on the website and those associated with it.