Thoughts on Wikileaks, diplomatic cables, and the future of journalism

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or otherwise intentionally avoiding news reports for whatever reason, you have probably heard something about Wikileaks (if down, try this IP address-based link) and its release of cablegrams between embassies which has sparked a huge controversy. In case you haven’t, or you need to be brought up to speed quickly (all from CBS News):

And this is of course just the tip of the iceberg. I could link you to all the press coverage, but I’d be here all night doing that alone before offering up my viewpoint on some of the things that have happened.

The publication of documents intended to be kept secret is a balancing act that at times makes a circus tightrope walker’s routine seem easy by comparison. I was somewhat familiar with Julian Assange and the Wikileaks site prior to the cablegram releases. However, I had not spent a great deal of time visiting the site on a daily basis. That’s about to change; suffice it to say that I will probably be writing about the material on Wikileaks on a semi-regular basis, especially since the latest release has threatened the site’s continued existence.

And I feel that is a shame. I trust Julian’s judgment, and I do not believe he or the others responsible for maintaining Wikileaks would release the 652 cablegrams marked “Secret” without good reason. From the FAQ:

US authorities have said the release may put people at risk. Is this true?

Wikileaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have released documents pertaining to over 100 countries. There is no report, including from the US Government, of any of our releases ever having caused harm to any individual. For this release we are releasing the documents in a gradual manner, reviewing them with the assistance of our media partners.

And later on:

What will the effect be on the Middle East?

One newspaper has alleged the cables might destabalize the Middle East. These cables, by giving the players an unvarnished description of how they are seen, there will be a common ground on which to effectively negotiate peace and stability. We do not see this as a risk of destabilisation, but an opportunity for stabilisation and reform in the Middle East.

While it may be embarrassing to certain individuals for some of the contents of the cablegrams to be made public, this is not the same as being “put… at risk.” Sometimes, journalism requires embarrassing a few people for the greater good.

Until and unless there is hard evidence that someone has been injured or killed as the result of a release of information in the style of Wikileaks (not just from Wikileaks itself, but from any other organization which releases information in the same style), I personally regard Julian Assange as more of a modern-day hero, unlike some who appear to call him a modern-day zero (or other choice words, including “terrorist” and a few things I prefer not to put here).

I believe Wikileaks and websites like it are the future of journalism. Granted, most websites placed online will not have content quite as controversial as the leaked cablegrams currently at the center of attention. However, there is no shortage of information which large corporations, governments, or wealthy and influential individuals want to keep secret, which should be made public. As said by Thomas Jefferson, “An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”

I believe the latest release from Wikileaks has demonstrated the saying “information wants to be free” has never been more true, and has shattered any remaining doubts that the Internet is just a passing fad. It matters little what Amazon, Paypal, the US government, and others that wish to try to censor Wikileaks do. In the long term, they are all fighting a losing battle.

I wish Julian and his partners the best of luck in continuing the success of Wikileaks. May freedom of the press win and censorship lose.