You can’t call yourself a journalist and a politician
For the past two years media writers have spent a lot of time examining whether Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a journalist.
The Walkley Foundation proclaimed him one by bestowing a big award for his contribution to journalism, but then gave him an open platform to bash the Prime Minister. The Brits gave him the 2011 Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism, saying Wikileaks’s “goal of justice through transparency is in the oldest and finest tradition of journalism.”
Jonathan Holmes was torn. Marc A. Thiessen on the Washington Post was not. Others have pointed out the title of “journalist” is one of the few things standing between Assange and the wrong end of a United States Grand Jury.
Unsurprisingly US authorities are on the non-journalist side. In a nation built on the principals of free speech and a free press, it’s easier for the US to justify a desire to silence Assange and Wikileaks if his activities are considered “incompatible with being a journalist.”
Assange has expressed grave fears of being extradited to the United States from Sweden if he is sent back to Stockholm from the United Kingdom to face sex abuse charges. He believes the US is out to get him.
Which is why it looked a bit weird last weekend when Wikileaks announced Assange would run for the Australian Senate, and the organisation would find a candidate to run against Julia Gillard in her seat of Lalor.
In a couple of short, detail-free, Tweets Wikileaks has defined itself as a political organisation, and its head as a political figure.
It even posted a link to this article explaining how it would be possible for Assange to run from exile, which in part proclaims:
“A ‘Wikileaks Party’ makes great sense. It is an eminently logical extension of Julian Assange’s question - having other members in a formal party contesting (and winning) State and Federal elections in all houses. It is not only feasible but likely given the support levels in Australia. It will bring the ‘battle’ right inside the ‘Houses’ where government policy has effectively said: Leave Julian Assange to His Fate in Sweden and/or the USA.)”
Assange supporters could argue he and Wikileaks have been pushed into this politicisation by the Australian Government’s inaction on his arrest in Britain and possible extradition.
But once the genie is out of the bottle it is very hard to put it back in.
By moving into politics, Assange gives up any pretense, and therefore any protection offered, by the cloak of journalism.
If Wikileaks becomes a political movement, it’s impossible to argue its agenda is only transparency.
Politics is full of ex-journos. Bob Carr was one, Tony Abbott was one. Maxine McKew gave up a very long journalism career in favour of a very short political career. But as much as they might blog, or Tweet or commentate, they’re all defined by the word “former”. They can’t go back.
Assange might have just given up the one thing protecting him from being silenced.
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