The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) released an hour-long podcast on June 23 in which several academics and media personalities discussed the extradition proceedings of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The program remains worthy of comment several weeks later. It is, after all, one of the few occasions when the public broadcaster has seen fit to devote an entire program to Assange, despite the fact that he is Australia’s most high-profile political prisoner and fellow journalist.
The ABC broke its general silence on Assange conditional on an outpouring of support for the WikiLeaks founder, after UK Home Secretary Priti Patel announced last month that she had approved his extradition to the United States. United States, where Assange faces 17 charges under the Espionage Act and 175 years in prison. for exposing US war crimes.
Anyone hoping for a sympathetic account of Assange’s persecution, or a statement of support for a journalist facing blatant persecution, has been disappointed.
The show was titled: “Is Julian Assange Entitled to a ‘Freedom of Speech’ Defence?” All credible press freedom and human rights organizations answered the question unequivocally in the affirmative. They demanded the immediate drop of the US charges, as they constitute a frontal attack on the most basic democratic rights.
This is not the case with the ABC and its esteemed guests. The radio presenters were Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens and the program was part of an ABC Radio National series “The Minefield”.
Aly has previously made limited criticism of the Assange prosecution, but not recently. A professor of politics at Monash University and an ubiquitous media personality, his “liberal” credentials are primarily based on promoting multicultural identity politics, which are not even slightly leftist or threatening to the powers that be.
Less commonly noted, Aly works for Monash University’s Center for Global Terrorism Research think tank, a state-funded organization that works with law enforcement agencies and is charged with “fostering counter-terrorism practices.”
Stephens is an ABC editor and former professor of theology and ethics and parish minister. He is considered an expert on Slovenian scholar Slavoj Žižek, an intellectual charlatan whose sometimes “leftist” rhetoric is mobilized to support imperialist war and reaction.
Katharine Gelber, professor of politics and public policy at the University of Queensland and director of that university’s School of Political Science and International Studies, was a guest on Assange’s episode.
Just five minutes into the show, Stephens complained that the ‘Assangists’ are “so sensitive to Assange as a cause, and what Assange as a cause might then mean for the future of western democracy or the future of freedom of the press…that no admissions there may really have been things for which he was rightly accused and for which he should be held responsible and for which he should be judged, can even be addressed.
The only “crime” for which Assange has been charged is the publication of truthful information, in the public interest, which revealed illegal actions by the US government and its allies. If this is made illegal, so is any opposition to war and other government policies.
Stephens presented the puppet judicial process that Assange has been subjected to for more than a decade as a authentic legal case.
“Is advocacy really worth the price of causing people to completely lose faith in legal systems, in internal accountability structures within journalism, in the ability of politicians and judges to behave and act, and to legislate in good faith? Stephens continues.
Without evidence, he repeated the US Department of Justice’s narrative of the charges against Assange: “Soliciting/conspiring with people who had access to classified information to help them obtain that information – in other words, ‘hacking’” and “mass publication of material that placed informants, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq, under immediate threat of reprisal, imprisonment and death.
These claims are refuted by evidence that has been on the public record for years.
Testimony in court cases has proven that Assange did not hack into American computers.
Far from “intentionally, recklessly or recklessly” putting individuals at risk through WikiLeaks publications, Mark Davis and The Spiegel journalist John Goetz revealed Assange’s extensive drafting of documents.
Still, Stephens said, “On both fronts, in my opinion, it’s right that he be extradited, it’s right that he be tried.”
Stephens did not note that according to a Yahoo! New report last September, the Trump administration and the CIA had conspired to kidnap or assassinate Assange in 2017. Were these state murder plans in London an expression of the “rule of law” and “democratic standards” ? Stephens didn’t say anything and Aly didn’t bother to ask.
Gelber stepped in to proclaim that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic organization, despite having received some of the highest accolades in the field, including Australia’s Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism in 2011.
According to Gelber, “Assange says, ‘I can obtain information illegally, I cannot exercise any caution or circumspection in what I choose to make public. I can put people in danger because I want to. I can ignore all the principles of journalism. And then when they come after me, which I knew was going to happen, I’ll be like, “How dare you come after me.” I have freedom of expression.
Stephens concurred with Gelber’s anti-democratic rant, adding, “The ‘free speech’ argument is not on the side of those trying to obtain this information illegally.
The United States has acknowledged that it has no evidence that WikiLeaks posts have caused physical harm to any individual anywhere in the world. The only damage done was the false humanitarian and democratic pretensions of warmongers in Washington.
If soliciting information is a crime, then so is all genuine journalism. If journalists do not solicit information, they simply become a conduit for approved official information given to them by government authorities. Such a conception of a “free press” would go unchallenged by a number of dictators and autocrats.
Gelber elaborated on this point: “We cannot allow this special protection [freedom of the press] be extended to anyone with a keyboard, no matter how they got the information, no matter what they want to publish, and without exercising any editorial restraint, caution or judgment.
In other words, freedom of the press only applies to journalists who work for multi-billion dollar media conglomerates and who are controlled by intelligence agencies. It was certainly not the conception of American revolutionaries, who enshrined freedom of speech for all as the first amendment to the US Constitution, but it would be warmly accepted in the offices of the CIA and their Australian counterparts.
Aly, adopting the lame pose of pseudo-objectivity so beloved of career journalists and talking heads, distanced himself from those who would label Assange a “bad guy” or a “messiah.” He added: “I just feel like it would be a much better conversation if you were banned from mentioning Julian Assange’s name.”
So would the CIA thugs who plotted to assassinate Assange, and all the government leaders who oversaw his decade-long persecution.
Aly’s statement underscored the blurring of any substantive distinction between upper-middle-class liberal opinion and the rantings of academics who speak on behalf of intelligence agencies and the state.
The program outlines several conclusions that must be drawn by those fighting for Assange’s democratic rights and freedom.
Chief among them is that there is no constituency for democratic rights within the political establishment, including the CBA, regardless of its former liberal pretensions. To the extent that the assault on democratic rights is discussed in these circles, it is legitimized and encouraged by outright slander and lies. If a dictatorship were proclaimed, these individuals would have a measured “conversation” about its pros and cons.
The official media, including the ABC, are completely integrated into the state and corporate apparatus. Its figureheads and so-called pundits are representatives of an affluent upper middle class that has been irreparably corrupted by its six-figure salaries, stock market holdings and real estate portfolios.
The real basis of Assange’s freedom is the emerging working class movement, including in the US, Britain and Australia. This is where there is a real commitment to democratic rights, freedom of speech and an opposition to imperialist war.