Listening to Radio 4’s Sunday programme this morning, there was an interview with Andrew Brown from the Guardian in which he said something like this: that the reason the WikiLeaks cables were so useful was that, unlike journalists, they could disclose their sources, because those who sent them assumed that they were speaking confidentially — “But of course, they were not.”
Now this was interesting, coming as it did from a journalist. I don’t think Andrew was saying he wished he could be as frank about his sources. Rather, the point seemed to be, isn’t it great when we can do what judges and politicians often wish they could do, namely find out who is behind a story or comment.
The sense of unease was further increased when the word ‘gossip’ was used — whether by Andrew or the interviewer I can’t right now recall. In effect, the point was made, we are listening to gossip.
So, broken confidences and gossip are the essence of the journalistic use of WikiLeaks material.
Though I listened on to find out how the interview ended — and also because, with church coming up, I didn’t want to fall back to sleep — I once again felt uncomfortable about how we are all being drawn in to something which has a worrying agenda and operates on a principle which ought to require a high level of moral justification.
Earlier in the week, I read an online article in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a meeting between the journalist Philip Dorling and Julian Assange himself. You can read the article here, but Dorling describes how it took,
Six months of emails, clandestine meetings and confidential exchanges ... before arrangements for a visit to Britain were locked in.
And, ironically, he adds,
WikiLeaks takes security very seriously, and it is right to do so.
So, is it WikiLeaks conspiracy ‘good’, government conspiracy ‘bad’?
This is a serious question, given the apparent basis of WikiLeaks in the principle that good governance can only come about through degrading the ability of governments to ‘conspire’ through secure communications.
I have no doubt that bad conspiracies happen in governments. But that has always been true of all governments. There are bad conspiracies amongst political activists of all kinds. (Indeed, a useful debate for the future might be ‘Is politics a force for good in the world?’ I’d like to hear Christopher Hitchens on that one.)
The fact is, WikiLeaks is a ‘conspiracy’ in its own terms, at the head of which is a ‘man with a mission’. And we have all become players in the game.
Unless, of course, we choose to turn off the radio.
John RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
12 December 2010
12 December 2010