Assange- A hero or a villain

Wikileaks and the Radia Tapes carry the hallmark of the journalism of sensation.

Updated: Dec 30, 2010, 08:59 AM IST

Ritesh K Srivastava

As I look back at 2010 and take a trip down the memory lane in search of the biggest newsmaker of the bygone year that changed the face of the world forever, one name which comes to mind after careful deliberations is of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Yes, the 39-year old Australian, who is behind the stunning leak of an estimated 250,000 highly confidential American diplomatic cables ranging from the Church of Scientology manuals to documents outlining the torturous procedures at the Guantanamo Bay to the ugly face of the US foreign policy, is today the most talked about person on the planet.

I don’t know whether many would agree with me or not but the founder of this whistleblower website is probably the biggest feather-ruffler in a world dominated and dictated by the US – still the most indispensable nation across the globe.

For the Americans and all those who stand exposed due to the WikiLeaks ground shaking disclosures, Assange is the biggest villain whose action has not only jeopardized thousands of human lives, dried up the source of information for the US but also forced the world powers to adjust in the new geo-political situation.

However, for some who have hated America, its double standards and policies, Assange is a real hero, a fearless champion of free speech. It is not surprising at all that as Assange awaits in a UK jail his extradition hearings on sexual assault charges in Sweden, voices hailing him as the most courageous person to confront the Americans and unveil their ugly face get louder.

I can’t say whether or not he deserves any recognition or condemnation for his courageous act of baring Americas’ viewpoint on various global leaders, international diplomacy and policies of those having business with the US. But, for me he is the trendsetter of a new kind of journalism, which takes pleasure in bringing to light all that is protected under codes of secrecy without worrying about the consequences of such acts.

The disclosures made by WikiLeaks are nothing new and the world was quite familiar with the unpleasant fact that the US foreign policy has many hidden layers. Assange has just put millions of those cables on the net for everyone to see how Americans view themselves and the world.

The revelations made by WikiLeaks are surely an eye-opener and have given some lessons for all concerned nations, which will now need to review their national priorities to reduce dependence on foreign aid (read US) and evolving a self-reliance strategy.

WikiLeaks disclosures also points to a serious lack of trust among the world leaders and their respective nations, who in the face of diplomacy, have always pretended to be friends but pitted against each other in the back-room politics.

Saudi Arabia is a classic case in this regard, which on one hand favours Iran and on the other, supports Tel Aviv in wiping out Tehran, since it fears that a nuclear Iran would be more dangerous than arch-foe Israel, as claimed by the WikiLeaks.

The revelations also call for redefining our national and foreign policies, which suit our interest more than that of America or any other nation and the need to elect honest, clean and credible leadership.

Our political leadership now needs to change its subservient attitude towards America in order to emerge as a global player. It is now beyond doubt that WikiLeaks episode would now bring greater transparency in inter-state diplomacy and governance.
On a different note, Wikileaks episode signals a new kind of journalism or, shall I say, carries the hallmark of the kind of journalism, which we witnessed in the eighties post-emergency. Our senior media brethrens have then put their sleeves up in bringing to fore the ground realities dismantling a bridge of lies erected by the then government.

Wikileaks disclosures and, for that matter, the leakage of Niira Radia tapes are a big shift from traditional news reporting and celebrity journalism, which focussed on the idiosyncrasy and the privacy of the famous and the powerful, to say the least.

And this new journalism essentially focuses on sensitive issues, irrespective of the right and wrong ways of revealing the truth. But, what is that we gain from this kind of journalism? And does it not amount to serious breach of a person’s privacy and laws meant to protect vital information. Even if the objective is to bring the truth out, could there be any justification for endangering the lives of millions in doing so? No one has the answer, but one is concerned about how else the truth would prevail.
There would be no scope for whistle blower journalism if we lead a clean life or if our leadership is honest and if there is greater transparency and accountability in our international obligations. Similarly, if the famous and powerful maintain a certain level of decency in their private and public life, ‘the peeping toms’ would no longer exit. Obviously, this would never happen, so the scope for sensationalism and muscular journalism will always remain open.

Consequentially, WikiLeaks disclosures and the Radia tapes are also somewhat indicative of the human tendency to know what is kept under wraps and the closely-guarded secrets. Don’t you agree that we want to read between the lines, see beyond the permissible limits, trespass the prohibited areas and always crave for what is forbidden?

It is true that due to strategic reasons, government and political leadership have always kept something under the blanket and manipulated information, which is not fit for the general public. This has always triggered a greed for accessing insider information through legal or illegal means.

By providing access to unaltered, raw information, this new journalism only empowers the common citizenry to be able to come to certain conclusions about facts and claims thus reducing the chances of one getting influenced by engineered data or manipulative information. It’s like providing a choice to the common man to pick and choose from a catalogue of books in a library and ignore what is less significant.

So, whatever the US administration does to keep Assange behind bars, every new revelation would create the same sensation as the first one did. By providing access to what has been hidden and prohibited to the common man, Julian Assange will only become bigger and bigger in the days to come. This is because the common man seldom gets the privilege of accessing the dark secrets of the high and the mighty and as long as this happens, people like Assange will be revered as heroes.

You may call it an internet revolution of sorts by the WikiLeaks founder aimed at enlightening the masses or reject him as a traitor, who has put lives and geo-politics at stake for malicious pleasure.