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The arrest of Julian Assange - a reality check

By Marian Dalton - posted Thursday, 9 December 2010

So this is likely to be my most unpopular post to date.

I’ve been watching, with increasing incredulity, the storm that’s hit all forms of the media over Julian Assange, so-called “founder” of Wikileaks. (The base organisation that became Wikileaks existed before Assange came along. When the Wikileaks website was launched in 2006, the founders described themselves as a group of “Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and start-up company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa”.)

It’s probably not necessary, but for completeness’ sake: Wikileaks is an organisation with five paid employees and over 800 unpaid volunteers that describes itself as a “whistleblower”. They solicit leaked information, particularly from governments, then assess and publish it. Since 2006 they’ve published everything from Scientology documents to diplomatic cables. Assange has become the “face” of Wikileaks over the years; he’s the one making announcements and answering media questions.


As I write this, Assange is being held by the British judicial system on an Interpol warrant relating to sexual assault charges in Sweden. Inevitably, there are now literally thousands of comments, blogs, tweets and articles flying around screaming, “Conspiracy!”

Now, my personal jury is out on what Wikileaks do. On the one hand, I see real public good being served in the exposure of things like that horrendous “Collateral Damage” video, which clearly shows a bunch of idiot US soldiers in a chopper egging each other on to gun down an unarmed Reuters journalist and then the good Samaritan who stopped to help him. And I think there is a real need for committed, ethical whistleblowers like Andrew Wilkie. On the other, what good was served by publishing those diplomatic cables - you know, the ones that said German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “teflon”, and that Kevin Rudd had told Clinton that if China wouldn’t play ball, the US might have to get tough?

And then on the third hand (yes, yes, I know), what about the fact that every one of these leaks proceeds from an act of theft, of espionage (corporate or governmental)? For that matter, what kind of discretion is used in deciding what to publish?

But leave that aside. That’s a discussion for a whole ‘nother blog post.

What’s astonishing is the extent to which all forms of media - mainstream, new, social - have automatically assumed that (a) the sexual assault charges are bogus; (b) if Assange gets extradited to Sweden he’ll be handed over to the US; and (c) this is “really” about shutting down Wikileaks.

This is a representative sample of some of what’s out there - and I’m not making any of this up.


It’s a beat-up, a set-up, a honey trap! The US paid those two girls to accuse him! If he gets extradited to Sweden on sexual assault charges the US will grab him and whisk him off to Guantanamo Bay where he will be waterboarded until he reveals the identities of everyone who’s ever been involved with Wikileaks. He will have an “accident” in custody. He will be “disappeared”.

Meanwhile people are changing their avatars to pictures of him, wondering if they can make t-shirts, tweeting “Free Julian Assange”, calling him a hero, a noble crusader, saying he should get an award or even be “President of Oz” … and in an act of ultimate absurdity, last night The Australian published an op-ed piece he wrote. (I’ll say this for The Oz. They never let consistency get in the way of circulation.)

The hysteria is unbelievable. So I’m going to be a bit boring and talk about what’s actually happened, rather than join a wave that’s rapidly heading towards “UFOS CONTROL THE GOVERNMENT AND WANT TO KILL ASSANGE” territory.

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First published at the author's blog, The Conscience Vote, on December 8, 2010.

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About the Author

Marian Dalton is, in no particular order, an editor, blogger, reader, writer, mother, graduate student and sometime academic. She currently works as a freelance editor, citizen journalist and media advisor. Clients have included national political parties, lobby groups and community associations. Her blog, The Conscience Vote, provides accessible analysis of Australian political and social issues and aims to engage all people in public debate.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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