From the Australian mainstream media most readers won’t know it, but on 29 July a Federal Court in New York dismissed the Democratic National Committee’s case against Julian Assange for publishing leaked internal emails in 2016.
The Australian media usually overcome their mutual antipathy and band together to defend journalistic freedom and the rights of whistle-blowers, as we can expect to see in the case of Witness K. But Julian Assange is different. Denying that what he does is journalism is the excuse given by many in the media for taking no interest in the truth of his case or in finding out what is happening to him in Belmarsh supermax prison.
If Australian journalists were doing their job they would pursue Assange’s case with at least as much enthusiasm as they and the government brought to those of Peter Greste jailed in Cairo, Hakeem al-Araibi arrested in Bangkok, and Alek Sigley detained in Pyongyang.
The New York Times and Washington Post buried the highly significant story of WikiLeaks’ recent exculpation (Oscar Grenfell, ‘Media silent on dismissal of DNC suit against Julian Assange‘).To do otherwise would have brought down the house of negative cards about Assange which they have built ever since 2010. The New York Times published the war-log documents Assange passed to them before he, working through the night, had finished redacting 10 000 names. David Leigh at the Guardian published the very password for the cables database over which Assange is now facing prosecution.
All the media beneficiaries, and leaders of several governments, claimed repeatedly that Assange recklessly endangered the lives of people mentioned in the classified reports. They ignored that fact that in 2013 the Pentagon’s Brigadier-General Robert Carr conceded that no-one had been killed as a result of the leaked cables. The US and other governments were greatly embarrassed, but no-one died, while their killing of un-numbered civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria continues to this day.
Australia’s dearth of public interest journalism on the Assange case was somewhat relieved by Nick Miller’s coverage for Fairfax of statements by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture (SMH, 28 July 2019). Nils Melzer visited Assange in Belmarsh in May, but his written concerns about the effects on Assange of anxiety and long incarceration have since been rejected by Sweden and the US.
Then came ABC Four Corners, with episodes on 22 and 29 July about Assange’s prosecution, ‘Hero or Villain’ Part 1 and Part 2. Telling viewers little that they haven’t already seen in Linda Poitras’ documentary Risk and Alex Gibney’s feature We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (a deliberately misleading title), the two ABC programs recalled that only after the US papers ignored Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning’s offer did she seek out WikiLeaks, and that Assange told her what he could and couldn’t do to help with encryption. Concerned about balance, Four Corners gave Assange’s enemies a lot of air-time for personal allegations and familiar smears like ‘vanity’ and ‘megalomania’. But about his present condition it said nothing.
Dr Lissa Johnson brought to the story her expertise as a clinical psychologist. She observed on 8 August that Four Corners ignored Melzer’s statements, and accused the mainstream media of contributing to Assange’s torture by cultivating the established narrative (https://newmatilda.com/2019/08/06/talk-to-the-totalitarian-hand-state-responses-to-the-torture-of-julian-assange-morally-disengaging-media-and-what-it-means-for-us-all/). Melbourne-based blogger Caitlin Johnstone has countered 27 smears against Assange, providing quotable ripostes, in ‘Debunking All The Assange Smears’. And lest Australians not forget, by April this year, more than 100 000 had signed Philip Adams’ petition to the government to act (https://newmatilda.com/2019/04/23/petition-calling-for-intervention-into-assange-extradition-passes-100000-signatures/). In the UK, that petition would trigger a debate in Parliament.
While public support for Assange builds through social media, Australian ministers have consistently refused to seek assurances that he will not be extradited to the US, which imposes the death penalty, and threatens him with its equivalent, more than 170 years imprisonment. Although his Australian lawyer Jennifer Robinson met politicians in Canberra in late July and informed them about Assange’s case, the Prime Minister made it known that he would not raise it with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Australian, 2 August 2019: 4). If Marise Payne mentioned it to the British Foreign Secretary at a Global Conference for Media Freedom (sic) in July, she didn’t say so.
Lissa Johnson was joined on 8 August by Mark Davis, a veteran of ABC and SBS, whose talk in a Sydney pub was screened on Consortium News. Davis was in the Guardian ‘bunker’ in July 2010 when Assange decided to get the leaked documents published by mainstream media in the UK, US, and Europe. Exasperated that the ‘complete lie’ about Assange’s ‘lack of integrity’ has widely been accepted as truth, Davis blames the Guardian’s then editor, the plausible and urbane Alan Rusbridger, his brother-in-law David Leigh, and Leigh’s co-author, the ardent Russo-phobe Luke Harding. Davis says they claimed that the Guardian was only reporting about what Assange had published, thus avoiding blame for publishing it themselves while still claiming credit for the scoop. The Guardian decided that as Leigh had already published the password to the cache of documents it was ‘best to publish the whole thing’, Davis says. By December Julian Assange was under arrest. ‘Julian’s in jail now because of that subterfuge’, Davis told his Sydney audience (Mark Davis, ‘Julian Assange and the Culture of Revenge’ https://www.youtube.com/watch).
The recent dismissal by the Federal Court relates not only to allegations about Wikileaks, but also Donald Trump jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort over ‘Russiagate’. But the political establishment hasn’t dropped it, says a former UK ambassador (https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2019/08/in-the-world-of-truth-and-fact-russiagate-is-dead-in-the-world-of-the-political-establishment-it-is-still-the-new-42). That establishment still controls what is happening to Assange, and his coming extradition to the US, charged with espionage.
John Pilger, who visited him in Belmarsh last week, has expressed serious concern about his health. More worrying, given what has happened to other public enemies – Seth Rich and Jeffrey Epstein in the US and Sergei Skripal in the UK – is that someone may rid the world of this troublesome truth-teller.
Dr Alison Broinowski was a Senate candidate for the WikiLeaks Party.