For the past two years media writers have spent a lot of time examining whether Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is a journalist.

Once Marg and Homer are on board, everything changes…

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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42 comments

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    • NESLIHAN KUROSAWA says:

      05:30am | 21/03/12

      Hi Tory,

      I have always thought that politics was a fair game and open to almost anyone with an impeccable background, indeed!  However, there has been so much controversy surrounding Mr Julian Assange that I personally have a lot of doubts when it comes to the very idea of him going into Australian politics at all. I am certain that he actually has managed rock a few boats as well as upset a quite a personalities around the world, most unfortunately.

      I truly believe that journalists would make the ideal candidates, because of their special abilities and talents when it comes to writing, comprehension and public speaking skills in an almost perfect way, a bit like it was intended all along.  And it would make a pleasant change, because politics is so much more than a popularity contest, as proven time and time again.

      However, being in the spotlight constantly and being in the business of creating headlines as well as reporting them might prove to be very difficult task, to say the least.  Personally speaking, I most definitely look for a touch of integrity, intelligence, objectivity and down to earth attitude when it comes to picking our leaders.  I think that journalists tend to have all those qualities and so much more, right?

      Because I can not stand the idea of most politicians acting in a very childish way without any knowledge about certain things dominating the world agenda, right now. Because I truly believe that our leaders should always stand out from the rest of the population in a special way, that they are well respected in the areas close to every Australian voter’s heart.  It has a lot to do with being in touch with everyday realities and concerns felt by the Australian Public in general.

      So does this mean that we can actually look forward to seeing members of the Punch going into politics one day? With that added polished and educated look, we all crave to find in our leaders!  Who knows what the future holds, really?  Maybe you can all provide some inside information.  Kind regards to your editors.

    • SteveKAG says:

      06:49am | 21/03/12

      “Personally speaking, I most definitely look for a touch of integrity, intelligence, objectivity and down to earth attitude when it comes to picking our leaders.  I think that journalists tend to have all those qualities and so much more, right?”

      HUH???? Sorry but you are on the wrong tram.  Many journaists are no different to Politicians (particularly the ALP), used car salesmen & QLD property developers…......

      You can’t trust any of them.

    • NESLIHAN KUROSAWA says:

      07:26am | 21/03/12

      Hi SteveKAG,

      I really do appreciate your reply!  However I beg to differ with you about the comparisons you have made between used car sales men, politicians and journalists in general.

      Because the select journalists on the Punch happen to be very honest, intelligent and hard working individuals with lots of integrity and objectivity.  However, just like you said I can not say the same thing for all the other journalists.

      But anyway please don’t take it too hard and personally, remember that Mr George W Bush could not even spell and pronounce some words in English, such as nuclear weapons, really!  Can we actually say that about our well read and polished Punch Team? I most definitely think not. Kind regards.

    • TJ says:

      07:44am | 21/03/12

      Agreed Steve. Journos don’t have much respect from me. Their jobs revolve around sensationalism and they write whatever creates a stir just to sell papers. It’s not charity work they are doing here. What really gets me fired up is these people have so much influence in society you would think they would show a lot more honesty and integrity, but no, its all about selling shit.

      As for politicians, don’t get me started. None of them seem to give a frig about making society a better place, all they focus on is slagging each other out and saying whatever they can to get re-elected. Used car salesmen sums them up beautifully.

    • Luthien Nienna says:

      09:05am | 21/03/12

      Wow, Neslihan, do you work at the Punch? Because I would call this website “tabloid” journalism at it’s best. With the exception of a couple of the writers, most of the articles on here lack knowledge and show a definate bias.

    • Al says:

      07:01am | 21/03/12

      If the only goal of the ‘political party’ is transparency, and to that end they have a journalistic section that does journalistic work then the people in that area are journalists.
      If they start moving away from transparency (i.e. moving on to other issues or refusing to provide transparency over its own workings) then they are no longer just seeking transparency and have moved beyond the real of journalist.
      The only reason that politicians refer to themselves as ex-journalists is that as elected representatives are required to concentrate on that job and to be available to do that job on a 24hrs per day, 7 day a week basis.
      Any articles that they write then become a piece of party propaganda (whether it is true or not). So untill he becomes an elected representative, he can remain a journalist (even with political goals) as he is not yet required to do the work of a politician on a 24hrs per day 7 days per week basis.
      Saying they are mutualy exclusive is a little like saying a person qualified as an Electrician can’t also be qualified as a Vehicle Mechanic, which simply isn’t true.

    • marley says:

      07:36am | 21/03/12

      It’s possible to be both a politician and a journalist, but not at the same time.  You cross the line over into politics, and any claim to being a journalist is gone:  at best, you’re a PR man.  And it is certainly possible to be a politician and a PR man simultaneously. 

      Anyway, I think you’re accepting Assange’s own self-assessment that he is a journalist.  I don’t believe he is.  I think he’s simply a computer nerd with delusions of grandeur and anarchistic instincts.

    • marty says:

      08:16am | 21/03/12

      marley thinks fact and opinion share the same meaning.
      credibility = zero

    • Al says:

      08:39am | 21/03/12

      computer nerd - definately
      delusions of grandeur - I think Narcisistic Complex is closer, but however you want to phrase it.
      anarchistic instincts - Just what ANY good journalist needs. You can’t always uncover the truth by following the rules of those you are trying to expose as corrupt, incompetent etc.

    • marley says:

      08:53am | 21/03/12

      @Al - oh, I agree a good journalist might have a bit of the anarchist in him.  But being anarchistic doesn’t make you a journalist, any more than releasing gobs of information with no context does.  Printing out Hansard doesn’t make you a politician or a journalist, it makes you a printer.  Same applies to Wikileaks.

    • marley says:

      10:25am | 21/03/12

      @marty - err, how did you come to that conclusion from what I said?  Journalists should provide facts, but providing facts doesn’t make you a journalist. 

      And what makes you think that what Wiki publishes is “fact” anyway?  If Wiki publishes a genuine diplomatic dispatch in which a US diplomat gives his assessment of a political development in his host country, the only “fact” is that it is a diplomatic dispatch.  The content of the message may be as opinionated and inaccurate as anything NewsLtd could dream up.  Or, knowing some diplomats, it actually is something drawn directly from NewsLtd.,, rewritten, and slapped with a “confidential” tag.

    • marty says:

      12:02pm | 21/03/12

      You are the one who said

      “I’m not sure that it’s possible to separate fact from opinion.”
      “one man’s facts are another man’s opinions”

      Bit confused are you marley?

      marley a fact is a fact. An opinion is not a fact.

    • marley says:

      12:30pm | 21/03/12

      @marty:  which is fact?  Australia resettles more refugees per capita than any other western country.  Australia receives far fewer refugees than most other western countries. 

      If you’re anti-boat people, you’ll take the first statement, as evidence that we’re doing our bit.  If you’re pro boat people, you’ll take the second, as evidence we are doing less than our share. 

      The thing is, both statements are true.  I could build an entirely fact-based argument to support either stance.  But would it be fact, or opinion?

      The reality is, a single factual statement is often inadequate to explain a complex situation;  moreover, without context, it can be misleading in the extreme.  So journalists need to use facts to build that context.  And the facts they select will be a product of their own experience and views. Ultimately, facts are useful, but they are not the same as truth.

      And like I said, why do you think a wiki publication of the opinion of the Second Secretary of the American Embassy in Phnom Penh on the political machinations there is any more factual than something a journalist writes for the local evening news?

    • Al says:

      02:32pm | 21/03/12

      marley:
      A fact is always a fact.
      An opinion may be a fact, but also may not be.
      As such an opinion can’t be treated as a fact untill shown to be so.
      But no matter how much opinion may change, it doesn’t change a fact.

    • marley says:

      03:04pm | 21/03/12

      @Al - oh, I agree, a fact is a fact.  It’s just not necessarily truth.  That’s the conundrum.

      But again, and I stress this, what makes you think wikileaks is publishing facts?  They’re publishing genuine diplomatic documents, but are those documents factual?  Or are they just opinion, and wikileaks is attributing to them qualities they do not in fact possess?  The aforesaid Second Secretary’s opinion of the political state of the host country isn’t fact;  it’s his opinion.  That he sent it in a formal cable and wikileaks got its clutches on it, still doesn’t make it fact.

    • acotrel says:

      07:23am | 21/03/12

      How could Julian Assange ever become a politician, he insists on revealing the truth ?

    • Borderer says:

      08:34am | 21/03/12

      Acotrel
      Very few times I agree with you but this is one.
      I think he would be safe so long as he can remain out of government, look at Bob Brown, he had a solid career as a benign voice until he got into bed with Labor, then whoops, his nutty opinion suddenly had consequences.
      Assange would be similar in that so long as he’s exposing people from outside of government he would be fine. In government he’d be a disaster of the proportions that would make diplomacy impossible and probably cause a war, rioting etc until someone had the good sense to shoot him.

    • Dr Jack says:

      07:30am | 21/03/12

      Senator Carr is demonstrating that a journalist and comedian CAN also be a politician, but not very successfully when his lips are far too loose for any senior post. Assange qualifies as a very courageous politician and journalist much better than Carr and most of the federal government. What an adornment he would be!

    • cynicised says:

      07:40am | 21/03/12

      Journalism used to aspire to a degree of impartiality in it’s reporting. The idea of presenting both sides of the story was once held in high esteem, but sadly, that ideal has long since evaporated, along with the public’s esteem of the profession. However, I have difficulty with the mere presentation of un-commented-upon leaked info being “journalism”, it’s more like being a librarian, in my view.

      That said, if Assange is a Senare candidate, yes, he’s a politician and politicians are axiomatically partial, so no,not by any stretch of the imagination is he a “journalist” to me. Again though, I dislike the dodgy grounds for the witch- hunt which the US seems to be persuing, WikiLeaks does represent information being freely available to the public, and since knowledge is power, has some merit- and, paradoxically perhaps, therefore some responsibility for what he releases, which he has not seemingly exercised, as good journalists must.

    • Tubesteak says:

      07:42am | 21/03/12

      Most journalists are biased opinionsters these days anyway with very little expertise or knowledge of what they are writing about.

      For example, the only articles I’ve read on the GFC that were even remotely accurate came from bankers, traders and economists. They knew the market. They knew the regulations imposed by the US government. They knew the lending conditions. They knew the actions of the Fed Reserve. They knew the inevitable outcome. yet we get journos blaming bankers for the entire thing.

      Rather dismal performance which creates little of use.

    • RED says:

      09:47am | 21/03/12

      That’s because it’s pretty much impossible to find a journalism job devoted entirely to one sector. Because everyone wants their news for free nowadays it means there’s simply not enough cash to hire a bunch of specialists.

    • Darren says:

      08:06am | 21/03/12

      i have always called him a wanker

    • Lie Lover? says:

      08:07am | 21/03/12

      Journalism should be about uncovering the truth whereas politics is about obfuscation. Clarity versus obscurity. The only similarity is in the simplification of the message that is the start of their story.
      I’d hate to see wikileaks demean itself by becoming political. Their ability to be truthful and frank would end, probably reluctantly.

    • Martin says:

      08:16am | 21/03/12

      “You can’t call yourself a journalist and a politician”

      maybe not technically but people like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Dennis Shanahan, Janet Albrectson et al claim to be journalists but also are significant political players and policy makers.

      So I think the lines are already blurred.

      The only difference with Assange is that it will be transparent that he is a “politician”

    • Flexo says:

      09:06am | 21/03/12

      Can Assange be any worse than Gillard or Garrett or Roxon or any of those ALP twats? I don’t think so.

    • dancan says:

      08:55am | 21/03/12

      Couldn’t you call Julian the ultimate journalist? He reports the facts and just the facts without any interference of his personal affiliations or bias.

      Now I’m not saying he prints everything, for all I know there may be thousands of papers which show governments and businesses of the world are all upstanding, honest and kiss kittens.  But, those documents he does print are completely unedited and without bias, people can read them and make up their own minds.

    • Alan says:

      09:00am | 21/03/12

      Criticising the Government when it does dopey things doesn’t make you a politician.
      It makes you a normal human being.

    • Jim (remember him?) says:

      09:06am | 21/03/12

      is this a choice between the two most insulting names anyone can be called these days?

    • centurion48 says:

      09:54am | 21/03/12

      Like a real 21st century journalist, I just copied the following from another source - Wikipedia - but it does explain it better than I could so, suck it and see:
      Quote:

      A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist’s work is referred to as journalism.
      A reporter is a type of journalist who researches, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media (newspapers and magazines), electronic media (television, radio,documentary film), and digital media (such as online journalism). Reporters cultivate sources, conduct interviews, engage in research, and make reports. The information-gathering part of a journalist’s job is sometimes called “reporting,” in contrast to the production part of the job such as writing articles. Reporters may split their time between working in a newsroom and going out to witness events or interview people. Reporters may be assigned a specific beat or area of coverage.
      Depending on the context, the term journalist may include various types of editors, editorial writers, columnists, and visual journalists, such as photojournalists (journalists who use the medium of photography).
      Journalism has developed a variety of ethics and standards. While objectivity and a lack of bias are often considered important, some types of journalism, such as advocacy journalism, intentionally adopt a non-objective viewpoint.”
      Unquote
      The Wikipedia definition would seem to allow for Assange to be called a journalist. And, there are plenty of examples of politicians from both sides of politics doing double duty as authors so why not ‘journalist’?

    • marley says:

      10:30am | 21/03/12

      Well, but does Assange actually research, write and report on his “stories” or does he essentially just dump raw data and let real journalists try to figure out what it all means?  And does he cultivate real sources (ie the people who actually write the reports he downloads) or just the computer hacker that hands them over?  Sorry, I’m not convinced.

    • OchreBunyip says:

      12:43pm | 21/03/12

      Considering the Australian government wants to regulate blogs that receive more than 1250 hits a month as if they were media outlets containing the product from paid journalists I’d say Assange qualifies as a Journalist.

      Some transparency, any in fact, would be a welcome breath of fresh air to Australian politics.

    • Gomez12 says:

      10:05am | 21/03/12

      More interestingly,

      What happens if he gets elected? I mean, can the US extradite a sitting member of the Senate? I know that we couldn’t extradite one of theirs, and certain conventions prevent the extradition of a Head of State, but what of Senators? Could he, as a Senator, demand or even arrange his own protection and repatriation?

      Or would we end up in the farcical position of having an elected senator under house arrest in the UK to face charges in Sweden for acts that are not criminal in either the UK or Australia?

    • AdamC says:

      10:33am | 21/03/12

      Clearly, WikiLeaks is a source. Journalists report news, WikiLeaks makes source information available to journalists to enable them to do this. WikiLeaks is like the Deep Throat to the Guardian et al’s Woodward and Bernstein. I am not sure what this means in terms of any first amendment defence Julian Assange may have against any sort of espionage-type charge that the US grand jury might come up with, though. There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of discussion about this in the media.

      In any event, I wonder if the US will really maintain the rage on Assange. Most of the much-hyped secret cables and the like have been fizzers. Not to mention, Manning’s treacherous antics have had the additional benefits of prompting the Americans to tighten up their information security.

    • Chris L says:

      11:34am | 21/03/12

      If he was a journalist at the time of the leak he is protected. If he becomes a politician and then leaks information that is a different story.

      Your premise (if I understand correctly) would be like waiting for a soldier to retire, then charging him with the murder of the enemies he shot while serving.

    • Kassandra says:

      12:59pm | 21/03/12

      Is there anyone who thinks wikileaks is not political? Nothing surprising about Assange having political aspirations, but since his politics seem to be basically of the undergraduate anarchist type I doubt anyone will vote for him other than undergraduate anarchists. But Assange a journalist? i don’t think so. More like a postbox for receiving stuff other people have collected and dumping it on the internet. Journalists use information to compile news or opinion pieces, Assange doesn’t do that.

    • maria says:

      01:28pm | 21/03/12

      The role of a journalist and the media do we have is to provide balanced and impartial reporting.

      The question now do we have them under our system of mafiacracy?

    • Sore Throat says:

      02:10pm | 21/03/12

      What convoluted twaddle your argument is,

      if, but,  so, than,

      But are you a journalist? Or just a blogger spouting off (No research here).

    • Gordon says:

      03:15pm | 21/03/12

      I think both occupations have tickets on themselves: a journalist writes a journal:- a record of events. that’s it. It’s hard to do it well, but If people like it they’ll read it and will pay for the experience. A mythology has grown up around it…codes of ethics…schools& qualifications…guilds & unions. It’s all humbug. A good journalist is useful and we should be grateful to have them, but to say so-and-so “isn’t allowed to call themselves a journalist” is just silly. Likewise a politician is someone who operates the machinery of democracy to gain power. The important thing is whether they do this for good or ill result, not if they should or shouldn’t be allowed to have a go in the first place. I happen to think Assange is too opinionated to be a particularly good journalist and too egocentric to be a good politician but hell, what would I know? If he wants to have a go then let him stand & fall by his efforts.

    • Alex says:

      04:14pm | 21/03/12

      Ah, but isn’t Tony Abbott a former journalist for The Australian?

    • marley says:

      05:51pm | 21/03/12

      “Former” is the operative word.  I doubt that anyone would describe Tony, or Bob Carr for that matter, as journalists today.  So, is Assange a journalist, or another wannabee politician?

    • Joan Bennett says:

      07:02am | 28/03/12

      He’ll probably just take some votes off The Greens.  I don’t think any other personality type would vote for someone like that, somehow.

 

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