For all our eyes only
The “St. Kilda schoolgirl” and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have, surprisingly, a lot in common.
Bear with me. Just as Assange’s careful trickle of classified cables gave the broadsheets something to write about daily (The Wikileaks Saga: Day 255 -Assange grows beard), the St Kilda school girl’s systematic release of nude and suggestive photos gave her an upper hand over the mainstream news media.
While Assange comes from a journalistic and computer hacker background, and the closest Miss St Kilda has probably come is reading Dolly magazine and getting her MySpace spammed, their strategic release of classified information into the public sphere is, surprisingly, similar.
Both operate as rogue traders, away from authorities: Assange, up until his incarceration, from a Science fiction, Dr. No- style lair in underground Stockholm, where one expects Sigourney Weaver to emerge at any moment wearing a white lab coat.
Miss Saint, on the other hand, has chosen the common escape for most Melbourne 17-year-olds wanting to be debauched: a Gold Coast hotel room.
Both have fought sordid accusations. Assange has, perhaps convincingly, repeatedly denied rape charges by two Swedish women, while the St. Kilda school girl has alleged a pregnancy scandal and group sex with football players. Hmmm.
Both seem to feel disenfranchised in the face of a bigger, more powerful enterprise. For Assange, this is governments such as the US’s, which releases foreign policy information as sanitized as the White House banner behind it. While for Miss Saint K., Noel came in the form of a “Christmas present” to the St. Kilda Football Club, photos designed to bring down the supposedly “lad”/misogynist and “cover-up” culture within the AFL.
Authorities are perplexed as to how to punish both. While a Federal Court injunction prevents the St. Kilda school girl from releasing more photos and Assange has been held in the UK facing rape charges and possible extradition to the United States, what they are able to be charged with is less than clear. Theft? Defamation? Espionage? Communism?
The US Government is currently dissecting the rulebook for something with which to charge Assange, hoping that some residue of Salem or McCarthyism remains. Yet any charge of espionage would seem biased when Wikileaks cables reveal US diplomats were encouraged to “spy” on UN officials and other key players from countries around the world.
Similarly, rumours of pictures of the girl in question circulating on mobile phones long before everything hit the fan for St Kilda have spread faster than Bluetooth.
And so the question remains: could it have been easier if their face (or pixellation) had not been given to the information?
Yet they are the mouthpiece behind it, giving the public the truth as they see it. Both have the news media wrapped around their finger, be it 3AW interviews or The Guardian front pagers, due to the information at their fingertips (or keyboards).
And once it is in the public sphere, it has to be reported on.
Yet it has to be asked, to what degree is the information in the public interest? How much has it benefited us from knowing that Nick Riewoldt’s johnson also exists in digital form? Or that Senator Mark Arbib may or may not have been responsible for tipping the US Government on the Labor leadership challenge, among other things?
Riewoldt and Arbib seem to be casualties to a much bigger cause: bringing down governments and football teams, a whole culture rather than individuals.
Undoubtedly, Wikileaks has reinstated some accountability and transparency to democracy and governments around the world, opening the body bag on the true nature of the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan. No longer can documents just be placed in a shredder and relegated to the trashcan.
Yet neither can photos. “What happens on footy trip, stays on footy trip” is also no longer, when there is digital proof involved.
They say every release of information is strategic and has an agenda. So sometimes it pays to take a minute, stand back and ask what we are really being asked to consider.
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