Thursday 8 September 2011

Why wikileaks does nothing to enhance government transparency

I wrote on the Guardian CIF website on 7 January 2011

It seems the Guardian is trying hard to backpeddle from its close association with Assange. This is the first attempt to put some clear water between it and Assange. Expect more soon! The fact is that even the Guardian is realising how damaging this whole affair has been to good journalism. Journalism is a profession that requires rules, such as verification of sources, judgement of context and truth. The fact is that it was these rules that made Watergate a highpoint in journalism history. 

Wikileads is the opposite. It is a subversion of the best in journalism. It has degenerated into a smear campaign from all sides and was always bound to end up as a highly personalised matter with somebody like Assange. For Assange it has never been about the truth but about himself. The sadest thing is however that the campaign for better governance and transparency may have been damaged irreparably by the Guardian’s actions. How could they have ever thought the mass publication of stolen documents could further the cause of transparency? This would be like asking somebody to lend you their coat only to steal it first! How could anybody ever thought governments could be bullied into transparency? What will provide transparency is more robust freedom of information laws. Assange neither has the interest nor the patience for this. The Guardian however should!

and on 13 May 2011 

The point of democracy is accountability. Wikileaks refuses to establish even the slightest structure of accountability for itself. Any small company has more accountability by way of board of directors! In fact, Wikileaks publicly refuses to take responsibility for anything UNLESS it is something it sees as a desirable outcome from its own perspective. This is a really strange way of 're-introducing' democratic politics. Assanges' ramblings on 'making governments accountable' is facetious as long as he wants to be judge, jury and prosecutor at the same time. His notion of democracy and public affairs is a strangely warped idea of 'everything must be public' unless it has something to do with me.
However the most significant point is, wikileaks has failed on an even more important point of principle. Assange argues that wikileads will provide more public accountability for governmental action. How to achieve this? By (illegally) obtaining secret documents and publishing them. This undermines the efforts of all those who have for decades campaigned for openness in government by lobbying for a change in the law and for robust freedom of information laws in the US and UK. 

In one fell swoop, Assange has wrecked decades of hard work on this front. He himself has no interest in doing the hard work of lobbying for legislative change. He is only interested in instant, temporary gains without thinking about the long strategy for change. Nicking documents is not a strategy!
The Guardian sadly jumped on the bandwagon but quickly realised it was the wrong train. It started backpaddling fairly quickly and I am glad it has seen the light. Now let the real fight begin: to legislate for a robust freedom of information law in the UK and US. It will take painstaking efforts to persuade and convince people. Assange wont take part in this battle. There is no celebrity status to be had there!

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