My following article appears in today’s Guardian:
Revelations of British government intrusion of legitimate media reporting of American-led, global surveillance is a call to arms for journalists everywhere.
Australian attorney general Mark Dreyfus recently claimed that Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden weren’t whistle-blowers because they were “politically motivated”, and neither man exposed government wrong-doing (in fact, both did in major ways). The highest lawyer in the country fundamentally misunderstands the vital, democratic necessity of whistle-blowing as a safety valve against state violence, corruption and dishonesty.
Dreyfus should remember that the most comprehensive global study ever conducted into public attitudes towards whistleblowing, Melbourne University’s Suelette Dreyfus was a key researcher on the World Online Whistleblowing Survey, which found 81% of Australians believed such individuals should be backed.
If any western state claiming to be a democracy wants to destroy hard drives containing sensitive information, there’s only one response: resistance. Glenn Greenwald is right when he told CNN this week that “journalism is not a crime and it’s not terrorism”. The fact that such obvious statements need to be made in this climate shows how dangerous the attempts to criminalise legitimate investigations have become in the post 9/11 world.
In the spirit of telling governments and authorities that the public won’t tolerate illegal intrusion and intimidation against its own citizens, the following list is a far from comprehensive collection of information and documents the public has the right and need to know. Whistle-blowers and gadflys should feel unburdened and find the best way to get this information out (yes, I can receive snail mail to avoid all electronic communication).
- A decade after Australian forces were sent to Iraq to join the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein, there’s still no inquiry into the decision-making process leading to that decision (though the Iraq War Inquiry Group has been calling for one). It’s essential that documents are released related to the motivation and timing of the decision, whether legal advice found the decision legal, the exact role of private contractors working for Australians in the conflict zone and whether public statements by then prime minister John Howard and foreign minister Alexander Downer matched private knowledge and assessments.
- Trade agreements negotiated with other nations must be made public long before they’re passed, usually with bipartisanship, by a government of the day. Far too often, including in the trade deal between Australia and America, secrecy is used to obfuscate clauses that disadvantage citizens, not least over sovereignty and excessive use of foreign law enforcement actions in our territory. We need to see documents that detail these negotiations and what benefits Australian officials were willing to forgo for political expediency.
- What’s the legal basis for the use of American assets on Australian territory, such as Pine Gap, in Washington’s drone war? What, if any, intelligence was gathered on Australian soil in the “war on terror” that caused the death of civilians in officially declared or undeclared battle zones? What is the legal basis for maintaining a key US intelligence asset without proper and regular parliamentary scrutiny? Recent revelations in New Zealand that US intelligence may be supporting its intelligence services should ring alarm bells in Australia, as our subservience to Washington’s needs are equally transparent.
- What legal advice did former prime minister Julia Gillard rely on when she claimed Julian Assange was behaving “illegally” when his organisation Wikileaks released documents in 2010? When Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said in June this year that his government was washing his hands of Assange because his case “doesn’t affect Australian interests”, we deserve to see the legal advice that supports this absurd suggestion. The fact that Australian officials attended the trial of Bradley Manning proved the spuriousness of Carr’s comments.
- Australia and America signed in 2008 a “statement of principles on geospatial intelligence co-operation”. The program is GEOINT, a high-level intelligence sharing program from spy satellites. President Barack Obama has accelerated America’s drone war since 2008, killing countless civilians in Yemen, Pakistan and beyond, and Australians have the right to see the legal basis for any information given by Canberra to attacks that kill or maim non-combatants. Does this legal advice, if it even exists, show that Australian officials could be held accountable for misuse of American intelligence in its “war on terror”?
- Australia provides more than half a billion dollars of aid annually to Papua New Guinea. How much financial assistance is AusAid providing to Australian consultants to assist the government of Bougainville (and its corporate backers) in drafting mining legislation to allow the return of mining giant Rio Tinto more than two decades after the multinational was kicked out of the province? Billions of dollars are up for grabs in the project.
- Australia’s ascension to the UN Security Council in 2012 was surrounded by allegations of bribing African nations for the honour. What diplomatic promises were made by Australian officials to secure these votes and what internal discussions by Australia were undertaken to assess the benefits or disadvantages of the two-year position? Furthermore, what pressure did Israel, during its unsuccessful bid to convince Australia to reject Palestinian statehood at the UN in 2012, place on the Gillard government and what did Gillard herself promise to the Israelis after failing to secure support of her cabinet during the discussions over the issue?
- Just two months before East Timor became independent in March 2002, Australia unilaterally withdrew from the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. The Timor Sea Justice Campaign claimed that Australia was stealing billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue from its poorest neighbour. Documents that reveal the Australian government’s decisions would be insightful. Equally important are the exact reasons for the Howard government’s intervention in 1999 (not as noble as claimed) and successive Australian governments, from Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s onwards, ignoring Indonesian genocide against the Timorese (all ably documented in a recent book by Clinton Fernandes).
Governments routinely over-classify information and beyond the reach of the public – the US now classifies literally trillions of pages of text annually – so it’s our duty to uncover what the state and business want to keep secret. Embarrassing power is our job. Let’s make authorities sweat by releasing an avalanche of riches.
Is this the future of investigative reporting? How far would a US government (or London?) go to stop information they believed was sensitive?
On Saturday night, Michael Grunwald, aTime correspondent, deleted a tweet that he said was “dumb”; a spokesperson for the magazine noted in an e-mailed statement that it had been on Grunwald’s “personal twitter account” and “is in no way representative of Time’s views,” and called it “offensive”: “he regrets having tweeted it.” Those responses are apt. This is what Grunwald said:
“I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”
People say reckless things on Twitter, as Grunwald’s defenders pointed out and as some of his more extreme critics, who posted that they couldn’t wait to write a similar defense regarding the drone strike that hit him and other gruesome things, demonstrated. If dumbness were the only issue we’d be done. But this one deserves being talked about a bit more, less because Grunwald still seems a bit oblivious as to what was wrong with what he said (though there’s that) than because it encapsulated something hazardous about the current moment, for journalists, for anyone who cares about civil liberties, and for the political culture more generally. And there’s the issue of the lack of civility on Twitter—but we already knew that one.
Still, let’s start with the tweets. Many people read it as a call to kill Assange, a founder of WIkiLeaks; that isn’t quite right, but “can’t wait to write a defense” implies a certain eager anticipation. And “takes out” is one of those terms—like “ice,” which Grunwald used, with regard to Anwar al-Awlaki, in a post he cited Saturday to explain his position as a “statist”—that makes its user feel blunt while serving as a distancing euphemism. (The Timespokesperson said that he wouldn’t be saying anything more on this for now.) Killing is killing; and this isn’t just Grunwald’s problem. The language reflects one of the problems with drone strikes—they seem like the clap of a hand, tough and sharp, but they are so much uglier and more complicated than that.
It was troubling, too, to read Grunwald’s tweet on a day when journalists were being threatened, detained, and set upon in Cairo, accused of being terrorist sympathizers or spies, underminers of public safety, for reporting on the violence of the government’s assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. Would words like those have appeared in Grunwald’s defense of a drone strike? This is a dangerous time for journalists; Time itself sends people places where missile strikes and bombs are not just rhetorical ammunition.
Journalists are in legal danger, too. The Obama Administration has, in its practices, embraced the position that the leaking of classified information to reporters is a problem properly addressed with the Espionage Act. Bradley Manning was convicted under it even though the government failed on a charge of aiding the enemy. Edward Snowden, the N.S.A. leaker, has been charged with two violations of the Espionage Act, for starters. Snowden’s leaks made a crucial discussion about the N.S.A.’s overreach possible. President Obama said in a press conference last week that he didn’t consider him a “patriot”; others have openly called him a traitor. And the Administration has come close to calling reporters who work with leakers members of spy rings.
Peter Maass, in a profile of Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker to whom Snowden turned with his files, describes how she was stopped and harassed at border crossings for years before even meeting him, perhaps because of filming she did in Iraq—but who knows why. [Update: David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was detained for nine hours Sunday while transiting Heathrow under a section of the U.K.’s Terrorism Act, apparently because he is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, who also worked with Snowden, and had just visited Poitras; British authorities questioned him about the N.S.A. leaks, according to theGuardian.]
The other part of the equation is our drone regimen and the legal rationales the Obama Administration has constructed for targeted killings—including the killings of Americans. Ina post a few months ago, I asked whether an Administration white paper explaining why it thought it could extra-judicially kill Americans abroad—ones whom it had decided were a threat and involved with Al Qaeda or “associated forces”—could be used to justify, say, a drone strike against a journalist who was about to reveal classified information. Despite the Administration’s denial that this is its intention, it appears that it could; it is too easy to imagine a future President pointing to the language of the white paper as a precedent. And that is for Americans: foreigners have less protection.
The role of an accountable press has never been more important. The role of Wikileaks, whistle-blowers, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden should inspire us all and bring a realisation that transparency in a democracy requires brave souls.
In exchanges with Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman prior to his name becoming public, Edward Snowden said something that got overlooked.
“Whistleblowers before him, he said, had been destroyed by the experience. Snowden wanted “to embolden others to step forward,” he wrote, by showing that “they can win.””
It’s not enough to defy the government and reveal what it wants to keep secret. When you go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet, you have to try to win. It sounded kooky at first, or completely outrageous, but after President Obama’s August 9th press conference it was difficult to deny that Snowden had won— not a complete but still a significant victory.
Congress had woken up to its oversight responsibilities and was finally debating the limits of the surveillance state. Lawmakers in both parties were advertising their doubts. Other parliaments around the world were asking questions they had not asked before. The President had been forced to respond with an announcement of some (tepid) reforms and a press conference intended to restore public confidence after the Snowden effect flipped the polls around. (Link.) When Obama tried to argue that he had been ahead of the game on transparency and the protection of whistleblowers and would have wound up in the same place without Snowden’s actions, it was hard to imagine anyone in the know buying it. As The Economist said:
Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama.
On Meet the Press they also talked about the sale of the Washington Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. But they did not try to connect the two stories, even though one of the living connections — Barton Gellman, who writes for the Post and was contacted by Snowden — was on the program.
“…Bart Gellman, the kind of work you do requires not only sources deep inside the intelligence community, but editors and owners who are willing to defy the government and publish over its strongest objections. If you had been able to talk to Jeff Bezos before he bought the Washington Post, what would you have told him to expect about this part of the job– publishing the secrets his reporters dig up?”
David Gregory didn’t ask Gellman that, but he could have. For one of the biggest unknowns in the story of Bezos taking over the Post has nothing to do with adapting to the internet or finding a new business model for newspapers. It’s whether Bezos has the inner strength to go up against the most powerful and secretive forces on the planet. When his free press moment comes — and it will come — will Jeff Bezos answer the bell?
My following article appears in New Matilda today:
Whistleblowers like Bradley Manning show us the true face of global power. The guilty verdict against him should stir journalists to challenge authoritarianism, writes Antony Loewenstein
The verdict was never really in doubt. Former US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was always going to be found guilty by a US military court. The only question was whether or not he would be viewed as “aiding the enemy”, namely Al-Qaeda.
Military judge Colonel Denise Lind decided he was not — but found Manning guilty on many other counts, including espionage, relating to the leaking of documents to Wikileaks. He is likely to face decades inside a US prison.
The Manning trial represents one of the most significant examples of American legal and political intimidation in our time. After being arrested in 2010 and brought to the US from the Middle East to await trial, the administration of Barack Obama subjected him, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in solitary confinement.
He was unable to communicate with the world. The reasons he leaked remained largely a mystery. Manning’s contribution to public knowledge of US foreign policy after 9/11 is profound, from war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, spying on the UN, abuses in Guantanamo Bay and countless details of corrupt US allies.
Manning’s motivations were never about financial gain nor destroying America; he is the ultimate prisoner of conscience, as his moving testimony proved during the trial. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rightly said this week that Manning and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, both young men dedicated to risking their freedom in the pursuit of revealing truths about US power, should be seen as heroes.
Even after this week’s verdict, many in the US media continue to regard Manning as a sideshow and prefer, as independent journalist Jeremy Scahill told Democracy Now!, to focus on trivial stories. “There has been more coverage of the indictment of that Real Housewives lady and her husband than there has been of Bradley Manning,” Scahill said. “This is the state of media in this country right now, and it is just devastating that we don’t have a media culture that says this should have been gavel-to-gavel coverage.”
The precedent set by the Manning decision is clearly aimed at intimidating media outlets that dare to publish leaked information likely to embarrass the government. After all, White House-friendly stories appear every day after sanctioned drops to insider journalists. Witness the orgy of pro-Barack Obama yarns after the murder of Osama Bin Laden, where classified information was shared by officials when it was convenient to praise the heroic President.
Manning’s conviction was guaranteed because the US military and the security state could not allow a relatively low level intelligence official free without him paying a price as an example to others. The Obama administration wants Americans and the world to know that it prefers to prosecute whistle-blowers who reveal crimes than the perpetrators of the acts themselves. There have been no successful cases brought against government officials who ordered the torture, murder and assassination of innumerable civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and the “global war on terror”. Instead, Obama has pursued more whistleblowers than every previous US administration combined. This is what being a “liberal” President apparently means.
Sometimes unjust laws must be broken. This is what Daniel Ellsberg believed when he released the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s in an attempt to stop the brutal Vietnam War. Ellsberg has been a long-time supporter of Manning and this week said that the conflicts may have changed but the need for whistleblowers had not. “When I hear Bradley Manning and when I read what he said in the chat logs and whatever, I’m hearing myself when I was twice his age 40 years ago”, he said.
“I know my motives and I perceive the same motives in his case, in each case actually, to save lives, to shorten a wrongful, hopeless, stalemated war, and to do so by informing the public and challenging them to live up to the Constitution in an unconstitutional war, to live up to ideals of democracy and of nonaggression, rather than fighting an aggressive war, as Iraq, the war that Manning was involved in, was an aggressive war from start to finish”.
In a society that is increasingly monitored and recorded, recent revelations by Edward Snowden confirmed our worst fears about the US surveillance state, the role of whistleblowers and organisations like Wikileaks become even more important. Embedded journalism has left many global citizens in the dark about the actions of their governments since 9/11 (though encouragingly, latest poll figures in the US indicate a majority of people now oppose rampant state breaches of privacy). Adversarial journalism, ably assisted by leaks that shame the powerful, will not stop because the Obama administration wants them to. The internet doesn’t work that way and I believe it’s our responsibility, as citizens and journalists, to challenge the increasingly authoritarian streak of the Western state.
How should this happen? It’s equally relevant in America as in Australia. Whistleblowers here, including the recent expose on SBS Dateline by a former British multinational G4S employee detailing allegations of rape and abuse on Manus Island, should be praised and supported. In my own work, including new book Profits of Doom, I rely on explosive testimony from a senior Serco whistleblower who outlines the price-gouging, lack of care towards guards and asylum seekers and corruption within the corporation. This is an undeniable public service to the debate about warehousing refugees by private companies.
It is our responsibility as reporters, whether professional or amateur, to encourage the leaking of information from within corporations and the state that has no business remaining private. We’re beyond playing nice with authorities that are scared of material the public has the right to know. Let the leakers roam free.
The Manning verdict is a call to arms for the activists, journalists, whistle-blowers, hackers and citizens who refuse to accept that the only information we deserve to consume is given the tick of approval by a public relations office. Julian Assange remains a target for US prosecutors, arguably even more so after the Manning conviction. Washington will not tolerate an outsider, an Australian no less, releasing cables that reveal the dirty reality of the US empire.
It’s no wonder Edward Snowden fears returning to America and currently resides in Russia. Only a fool would believe the US Attorney General Eric Holder who was forced to recently issue a statement declaring the whistleblower would be treated fairly back home and not given the death penalty. The world laughed in response.
The true face of American justice has never been clearer after the Manning verdict. The Guardian writer Gary Younge tweeted the most perfect response.
Great comments by The Guardian journalist on CNN:
The Australian government’s decision to send all refugee boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a political earthquake. It has nothing to do with alleviating the suffering of asylum seekers – if Canberra cared about it, a regional solution would allow processing of claims in Indonesia – and will further burden a poor neighbour. Some will be licking their lips at the prospect of massively enlarged detention centres; private companies will make a killing.
Veteran ABC journalist Sean Dorney rightly worries about social cohesion in PNG with the inevitable influx of thousands of people. Local communities there are already concerned that once again, they’re being forgotten. There’s no welfare system in the state, and its health and education infrastructures are crumbling. They’ll rightly wonder why these new arrivals will be treated better than the countless families in squatter settlements, including in the centre of the capital, Port Moresby.
I visited these areas myself in 2012 and spoke to locals who reminded me that Australian aid, over $500m annually, was having no positive impact on their lives. Prime minister Kevin Rudd’s latest announcement – to improve hospitals and universities in a touching bribe to PNG’s political elites – will be greeted with necessary skepticism by the many citizens who never see a decent hospital or school for their children.
The problem has never been that Australia gives too much aid; it’s that we’re throwing huge amounts of money to avoid a failed state on our doorstep by backing rapacious mining interests and overpaid consultants. After decades of Australian aid, PNG’s rates of infant mortality, sexual violence against women and corruption have never been worse.
None of this concerns both major sides of Australian politics. For more than a decade, they’ve outsourced the most unpleasant tasks of refugee processing to largely unaccountable private firms (British multinationals Serco and G4S being the most obvious), and Rudd’s latest moves will inevitably enrich even more of them. G4S, currently embroiled in a massive overcharging investigation case in Britain and facing a civil suit over claims three of its UK security officers assaulted a man while escorting him on a plane during a deportation, was granted an $80m contract by Australia to run the government’s facilities on PNG’s Manus Island. Recent revelations in the Guardian reveal that there has been no official oversight of processing times in the UN condemned facility.
This mirrors my own investigations, assisted by a senior Serco source, that confirms Canberra barely monitors the operation, because Australia so desperately needs the corporation to warehouse individuals and families.
This is the fate now facing PNG, with even more multinationals bidding for influence and profits in a nation whose last government was described by US officials in Wikileaks cables as a “totally dysfunctional blob”. G4S already have a large presence in PNG, I saw local staff guarding many buildings and energy installations last year, and Port Moresby has allowed the company to manage the soon-to-launch Exxon-Mobil LNG plant.
NGO Jubilee Australia released a 2012 report called Pipe Dreams (disclosure: I offered advice on certain sections and provided some photos) that questioned the Australian government’s financial and rhetoric backing of the $19bn LNG project. “There are serious risks that the revenues generated by the project will not mitigate the negative economic and social impacts of the project”, they argued. “In fact, it is very likely that the Project will exacerbate poverty, increase corruption and lead to more violence in the country.” Remember this is what Australia means when it boasts of assisting our northern neighbour.
History is repeating. I visited the province of Bougainville in 2012 to witness the aftermath of a civil war between a state and locals who opposed a polluting mine. At least 15,000 people were killed during the conflict in the 1980s and 1990s. Australia backed the PNG government to the hilt, and today there are moves to re-open the copper and gold mine without justice being served for crimes committed or a thorough environmental clean-up. This is how Australia supports PNG. A number of PNG citizens told me they wanted all Australian aid to stop immediately, because we’re forcing on them a development model that is only enriching political and industry elites.
Australia’s relationship with PNG since Canberra granted independence in 1975 has been based on paternalism. We have believed that throwing billions of dollars at our former subjects will bring prosperity and security. Former prime minister John Howard proudly wore the title (endorsed by former US President George W Bush) of Australia being “Washington’s deputy sheriff in the Asia-Pacific region”.
The population of PNG knows that we don’t treat them with respect and this latest move against asylum seekers will merely confirm that belief. Tragically, akin to Nauru having no economic alternative to accepting refugees from Australia, PNG is placed in exactly the same position by a regional bully that contributes to both these nations lying in ruin.
“Stopping the boats” and avoiding people dying at sea is a noble motive if its combined with solutions that place the rights of refugees first. Instead, we’re locked in a battle to punish a tiny fraction of the world’s asylum seekers.
The idea that refugees are an existential threat to Australia is laughable, but Labor’s so-called PNG solution completely accepts the narrative set by the Liberal Party since before 9/11. It remains almost verboten to argue for open borders in Western political discourse. An Indonesian people smuggler has already told ABC that the “PNG solution” may reduce the boats “for a while”. But at what cost? Using PNG as a dumping ground for an Australian political problem is guaranteed to breed resentment in a country most of our media studiously ignores.
Australia treats its neighbours with contempt. As soon as the latest contortions of refugee policy were announced last week, I tweeted that Australia could possibly expect international sanctions, not unlike against Israel due to its human rights abuses of Palestinians. If we flagrantly ignore international law and morality while locking up the most vulnerable people on the planet in privatised centres, we deserve nothing less.
Never let facts get in the way of a good story. Here’s an important corrective, by a range of Latin American scholars, to a gullible and pro-US media that prefers playing the man than the issues:
The supposed “irony” of whistle-blower Edward Snowden seeking asylum in countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela has become a media meme. Numerous articles, op-eds, reports and editorials in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and MSNBC have hammered on this idea since the news first broke that Snowden was seeking asylum in Ecuador. It was a predictable retread of the same memelast year when Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the Ecuadorian government deliberated his asylum request for months.
Of course, any such “ironies” would be irrelevant even if they were based on factual considerations. The media has never noted the “irony” of the many thousands of people who have taken refuge in the United States, which is currently torturing people in a secret prison at Guantanamo, and regularly kills civilians in drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries. Nor has the press noted the “irony” of refugees who have fled here from terror that was actively funded and sponsored by the U.S. government, e.g. from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and other countries.
But in fact the “irony” that U.S. journalists mention is fantastically exaggerated. It is based on the notion that the governments of Venezuela under Chávez (and now Maduro) and Ecuador under Correa have clamped down on freedom of the press. Most consumers of the U.S. media unfortunately don’t know better, since they have not been to these countries and have not been able to see that the majority of media are overwhelmingly anti-government, and that it gets away with more than the U.S. media does here in criticizing the government. Imagine if Rupert Murdoch controlled most U.S media outlets, rather than the minority share that his News Corp actually owns – then you’d start to have some idea what the media landscape in Ecuador, Venezuela and most of Latin America looks like.
The fact is that most media outlets in Ecuador and Venezuela are privately-owned, and opposition in their orientation. Yes, the Venezuelan government’s communications authorities let the RCTV channel’s broadcast license expire in 2007. This was not a “shut down”; the channel was found to have violated numerous media regulations regarding explicit content and others – the same kind of regulations to which media outlets are subject in the U.S. and many other countries. Even José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch – a fierce critic of Venezuela – has said that “lack of renewal of the contract [broadcast license], per se, is not a free speech issue.” Also rarely mentioned in U.S. reporting on the RCTV case is that the channel and its owner actively and openly supported the short-lived coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government in 2002.
A July 10th piece from the Washington Post’s editorial board – which has never hid its deep hatred of Venezuela, Ecuador and other left governments in Latin America – describes another supposed grave instance of the Venezuelan government clamping down on press freedoms. The editorial, which was given greater publicity through Boing Boing and others, describes the case of journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who is credited with breaking the news of Chávez’s cancer in June 2011. The Post champions Bocaranda as a “courage[ous]” “teller of truth” and dismisses the Venezuelan government’s “charges” against him as “patently absurd.” In fact, Bocaranda has not been charged with anything; the Venezuelan government wants to know whether Bocaranda helped incite violence following the April 14presidential elections, after which extreme sectors of the opposition attacked Cuban-run health clinics and homes and residences of governing party leaders, and in which somenine people were killed – mostly chavistas. The government cites a Tweet by Bocaranda in which he stated false information that ballot boxes were being hidden in a specific Cuban clinic in Gallo Verde, in Maracaibo state, and that the Cubans were refusing to let them be removed. Bocaranda later deleted the Tweet, but not before it was seen by hundreds of thousands (an image of it can be seen here). So while the Post dismisses the case against Bocaranda as “absurd,” the question remains: why did Bocaranda state such specific information, if he had no evidence to support it? Indeed, any such evidence would be second hand unless Bocaranda had seen the supposed “hidden” ballot boxes and the actions by the Cubans himself. The Venezuelan government’s summons for Bocaranda to explain himself is being characterized as a grave assault on press freedom, and perhaps it is an over-reaction – after all, many journalists report false information all the time. But wasn’t Bocaranda’s Tweet irresponsible, especially given the context of a volatile political situation?
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has been widely condemned in the U.S. media – in much reporting as well as commentary – for suing a prominent journalist, Emilio Palacio, for defamation. The defamatory content was, in fact, serious. It relates to a 2010 incident in which Correa was first assaulted and then later held captive by rebelling police in whatmany observers deemed an attempt at a coup d’etat. Military forces ultimately rescued Correa. But in a February 2011 column referring to the episode, Palacio alleged that Correa had committed “crimes against humanity,” and that he had ordered the military forces to fire on the hospital where he was being held at the time. So Correa sued Palacio for defamation and won. What some U.S. media outlets have failed to mention is that he subsequentlypardoned Palacio, and had made clear from the beginning that he would have dropped the lawsuit if Palacio ran a correction. In other words, all that Correa did was exercise his right as a citizen under the law to sue someone who had printed an outrageous lie about him. This is a right that most elected officials have in most countries, including the United States.
My following article appears in the Guardian today:
Are mainstream journalists dedicated to journalism? This may seem like a strange question, especially since I’m a journalist myself, though independent and not tied to a corporate news organisation.
We are bombarded with details that claim to inform us about the world. From war and peace to politics and global affairs, reporters produce content that is consumed by the vast majority of the population. There are claims of holding power to account, questioning how governments, officials and businesses make decisions that affect us all. In reality, corporate and political interests too often influence what we see and hear.
Of course, profound failures regularly occur – not least during the global financial crisis, when most business reporters were far too close to bankers causing the lying and deceit. Or in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, when too few in the media questioned the bogus rationale by the Bush administration and its allies about Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD threat. More recently, many in the Washington media elite rallied around Barack Obama and his defence of mass surveillance after the explosive revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
But the media has singularly failed in holding itself to account. We, as journalists, should disclose for whom we vote and any other political affiliations that may affect our reporting. It’s the least we can do to restore trust in an industry that regularly receives low marks by its readers. A 2011 study by Edelman Public Relations found only 33% of the Australian public trusted the press, compared to an average of 49% globally. A 2013 study by Transparency International finds Australians rank political parties and the media as the most corrupt institutions in the state.
But instead of taking such ideas to heart and questioning why this is the case, too many in the press respond indignantly and claim that commitments to fairness and accuracy will suffice. They’re important, but not enough. A 2013 study by the University of the Sunshine Coast found that “more than half (51%) describe themselves as holding left-of-centre political views, compared with only 12.9% who consider themselves right-of-centre”, and over 40% of ABC journalists who answered the study (only 34 people; yes, hardly representative of anything) claimed to be Greens voters. But after the predictable indignation in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian – radical communists and Islamists are running your ABC, people! – the debate died.
Here was a perfect opportunity for journalists to acknowledge their massive deficit of faith amongst the public, and find ways to address it. In an age where our media is dominated by talk shows, and where punditry is cheap to produce in a period of reduced media budgets, it’s time for commentators and reporters to more clearly reveal bias and voting intentions.
I’ve long argued that by doing this, journalists would follow the strict rules of transparency they only sometimes demand from others. They are humans like everybody else, not exactly a shocking revelation, with experiences and perspectives that shape their world view. Their influence over public debates is massive, almost incomparable to any other profession, and yet we know so very little about them. Why they vote Liberal, Labor, Greens, Wikileaks or another minor party says something important about a person with the ability to influence and question the political cycle.
Back in April, News Limited’s Andrew Bolt chastised ABC News’s 24 Virginia Trioli for asking only some of her guests about their political party of choice. More critically, she didn’t ask herself or co-hosts their own affiliations. Our media regularly fails to properly inform consumers about conflicts of interest with featured talent.
The responsibility should be on journalists to explain why they aren’ttelling us for whom they vote, rather than claiming it’s a private matter that would only open them up to dismissal by partisan players or exclusion by politicians who don’t believe they’ll receive a fair hearing.
This already happens today. The vast majority of “exclusives” in our media are nothing of the kind but sanctioned leaks to favoured reporters. A 2010 report by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (disclosure: I’m a research associate there but I had no involvement in this study) found that over half of the stories in the mainstream media over a five-day period in late 2009, across major media, was spin and connected in some way to public relations.
Significantly, the authors commented, “when there was no media release, if it was clear from the positive, promotional tone of the article or there was a focus on one source only with no indication of independent questioning, it was coded as ‘PR driven’”. We are long past journalists being able to say with a straight face that they’re simply reporting the news as they see it. Objectivity only ever existed in the minds of the deluded.
For me, it’s long been a journalistic desire to challenge accepted wisdom on Palestine, war, politics, capitalism, terrorism and censorship. By opening up more fully with readers and consumers, practitioners would build a stronger relationship with them, rather than sitting unnaturally above the debate, seemingly without opinions. I agree with the American Journalism Review that said in 2012 “The voice of god is dead”, and declaring that objectivity is a concept without foundation in reality. We are all subjective, and shouldn’t be afraid to admit it. Fairness in reporting should be the aim.
False balance between two, usually unequal sides isn’t journalism; it’s colluding with the powerful against the voiceless. How we frame stories matters and readers know it; they’re usually far smarter than most reporters give them credit for. Being as impartial as possible surely is the goal while leveling with our readers and viewers that we’re not hollow men and women without an agenda.
The “adversarial journalistic ethos”, as the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald writes, should be the model for us all. Instead, wining and dining and being close to power is how too many reporters pursue the profession. The results lack rigour and skepticism if you fear losing that all-important access to the next sanctioned press release or Mid-Winter ball invitation hobnobbing with politicians and advisors in Canberra. Look at theobsequiousness of journalists at the White House correspondents dinner. It’s hard to disagree with former Labor leader Mark Latham’s recent comments that the press gallery are “people who want to be players in politics, but lack the integrity and courage to run for elected office in their own name” .
For the record, I’m likely to vote for the Greens this year but am flirting with the Wikileaks party, both organisations largely dedicated to increasing transparency in the ways we are governed.
UPDATE: The Guardian’s media writer Roy Greenslade has responded to my column and challenged its logic. I love this conversation, an important one that journalists must have with the public to better understand why our reputations are largely in tatters.
Typically tough piece by Julian Assange, published in the Guardian, that outlines the risks faced by every citizen around the world and why trusting state power is a fool’s game:
The original cypherpunks were mostly Californian libertarians. I was from a different tradition but we all sought to protect individual freedom from state tyranny. Cryptography was our secret weapon. It has been forgotten how subversive this was. Cryptography was then the exclusive property of states, for use in their various wars. By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.
The resulting crackdown, under various “arms trafficking” laws, failed. Cryptography became standardised in web browsers and other software that people now use on a daily basis. Strong cryptography is a vital tool in fighting state oppression. That is the message in my book, Cypherpunks. But the movement for the universal availability of strong cryptography must be made to do more than this. Our future does not lie in the liberty of individuals alone.
Our work in WikiLeaks imparts a keen understanding of the dynamics of the international order and the logic of empire. During WikiLeaks’ rise we have seen evidence of small countries bullied and dominated by larger ones or infiltrated by foreign enterprise and made to act against themselves. We have seen the popular will denied expression, elections bought and sold, and the riches of countries such as Kenya stolen and auctioned off to plutocrats in London and New York.
The struggle for Latin American self-determination is important for many more people than live in Latin America, because it shows the rest of the world that it can be done. But Latin American independence is still in its infancy. Attempts at subversion of Latin American democracy are still happening, including most recently in Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador and Venezuela.
This is why the message of the cypherpunks is of special importance to Latin American audiences. Mass surveillance is not just an issue for democracy and governance – it’s a geopolitical issue. The surveillance of a whole population by a foreign power naturally threatens sovereignty. Intervention after intervention in the affairs of Latin American democracy have taught us to be realistic. We know that the old powers will still exploit any advantage to delay or suppress the outbreak of Latin American independence.
Consider simple geography. Everyone knows oil resources drive global geopolitics. The flow of oil determines who is dominant, who is invaded, and who is ostracised from the global community. Physical control over even a segment of an oil pipeline yields great geopolitical power. Governments in this position can extract huge concessions. In a stroke, the Kremlin can sentence eastern Europe and Germany to a winter without heat. And even the prospect of Tehran running a pipeline eastwards to India and China is a pretext for bellicose logic from Washington.
But the new great game is not the war for oil pipelines. It is the war for information pipelines: the control over fibre-optic cable paths that spread undersea and overland. The new global treasure is control over the giant data flows that connect whole continents and civlisations, linking the communications of billions of people and organisations.
It is no secret that, on the internet and on the phone, all roads to and from Latin America lead through the United States. Internet infrastructure directs 99% of the traffic to and from South America over fibre-optic lines that physically traverse US borders. The US government has shown no scruples about breaking its own law to tap into these lines and spy on its own citizens. There are no such laws against spying on foreign citizens. Every day, hundreds of millions of messages from the entire Latin American continent are devoured by US spy agencies, and stored forever in warehouses the size of small cities. The geographical facts about the infrastructure of the internet therefore have consequences for the independence and sovereignty of Latin America.
I appeared on ABCTV News24’s The Drum on Friday night (video here).
We discussed the foul use of vulnerable asylum seekers as a political tool in Australia, claiming those coming from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka or elsewhere are just economic refugees. The facts are the complete opposite.
I strongly defended the importance of NSA contract whistle-blower Edward Snowden to reveal the surveillance state set up by the US and backed by far too many nations around the world. The vital role played by people like Bradley Manning and Snowden, along with Wikileaks, goes to the heart of how a democratic society must work. Those opposing the leaks on “national security” grounds either have too much faith in the state or fear challenging its power.http://antonyloewenstein.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/DRMs_Program_0507_512k.mv4