‘I have tried to invent a system that solves the problem of censorship of the press and the censorship of the whistle-blower across the whole world’– Julian Assange
Now, the question is, is that all this is about? Or is he just looking for his 15 minutes of fame? Well, as some one said, it doesn’t matter what you think or what your intentions are, but only what you do. It’s true that WikiLeaks has done more than just be a new virtual ‘plaything’ for mass feeding frenzy. A corruption report by Wikileaks led to the loss of office for Prime Minister in Kenya. Among the recent releases, the revelation that some Arab nations are eager for an US occupation of Iran is definitely going to play out in unpredictable ways because until now they have not taken an openly hostile stand against Iran. But the exact repercussions of this is yet to be determined. Another jolt has been that China considers North Korea ‘a trouble maker’ and has been open about the idea of an unified Korea despite its open support towards North Korea. This is going to figure in the future relationship between them.
But what is the other side of it? Is it ethical to publish what an foreign ambassador reports back about a statesman of the country where he is posted? What kind of good can come out of it? Where does the work of a journalist end and interference with the smooth functioning of the state begin? What does Assange say about free transfer of information?
”There cannot be good governance without good information given to good people (italics mine). It’s impossible in a democracy. Physicists look at extreme circumstances to understand a situation. The extreme situation of ignorance would be if everyone were deaf, dumb and blind tomorrow. [Nobody could] communicate. Every form of society would collapse in an instant — democracies, monarchies and dictatorships alike. But if we look in the other direction and ask what if we maximize the reliable, verified information about how the world is working, then we start to produce more sophisticated and intelligent structures that respond to the abuses in societies and also the opportunities there may be in society.”
Let me cut it short. I think what Assange says is idealistic nonsense. And I don’t believe that end justifies the means. If that was so, we would be bracketing ourselves with terrorists and Maoists and all hocus pocus vigilantes. Good information given to good people? And who is going to decide who is good? Here take the instance of Yemen, considered to be a hot terrorist hub, not much better than Afganistan. The rulers are supposed to be supporting US in pinning down the extremist elements there but have been maintaining a straight face in front of the nation fearing a lashing out by these elements, like something happening in Pakistan right now. Now this fact is out due to WikiLeaks and naturally things are bound to get worse there. And who is going to benefit out of these? One can argue that no ruler has the right to hide facts from its citizens. But one has to exercise caution here. We are yet to devise a system where information about the functioning of the state can be passed to all responsible citizens while shutting it out from others. For that, we would need mind reading machines. Until then state would have to keep certain sensitive information out of reach of even its own people. Now if Assange is talking about a world where there are no competing states and there are no separate interests to protect, where all information is equally shared by each other, such a world is yet to come. And to reach there, simply dumping diplomatic notes into the internet wont be much of use. It is just going to give WikiLeaks some more hits. And increase the bile between independent countries.
Assange wants to show the double standards of US in front of its own people. But how is releasing the comments and personal impressions of US foreign officials going to help? Well, I have my issues with US foreign policy. But what Assange is doing with the recent releases is more like an act of malice.
Many try to make a David and Goliath story out of Assange and US. Some are happy because US is at the receiving end, ‘the big bad superpower.’ But what if WikiLeaks tomorrow releases diplomatic secrets of our country jeopardising our relations with strategic partners? Would we be feeling the same way? It is a matter of contention whether Assange is just vying for the power of attention or he really believes some good is going to come out of the cable gate. But it doesn’t matter. What is happening in our minds is just theory. What we do and how it impact others more important.
WikiLeaks has a definitive role to play in our world. As Assange said, where media has become just another institution feeding on power, all news worthy items need not get published. So we need alternate means to know the truth. But the current releases are not in the right direction or spirit. Because what it gave us was just gossip, not news. WikiLeaks need to find news which is more about someone bitching about heads of nations.