The article Why Journalists Aren’t Standing Up for WikiLeaks found on The Daily Beast‘s website discusses a topic critical to not only independent media outlets, but by professional journalists as well.
The discussion at hand is why journalists and other media outlets are not arguing to protect WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange. The argument of protection falls on the First Amendment of the United States: Freedom of Speech. Some media outlets, according to the Daily Beast, have sent letters to The Obama Administration arguing that what Assange has revealed to the world (hundreds of documents exposing the corruption of the government of the United States and its military tactics) should be viewed as freedom of speech and Assange is therefore protected under the Constitution. Other outlets have yet to reach a decision, or refuse to take one side or another in the whole dilemma.
It is a particularly sticky situation for American media outlets, where a conflict of interest is presented: to protect Assange and the First Amendment and the idea that all that media outlets were originally founded upon (a system of checks and balances for those who hold power), or to protect those the media outlets produce ‘news’ about.
Personally, I do not know enough details of the documents WikiLeaks published, but as an aspiring professional journalist, I believe media outlets need to choose Assange’s side. The Society of Professional Journalists released a public statement in December 2010 declaring their members could not reach a consensus of whether or not the research done by WikiLeaks and their employees was ethical journalism. SPJ is famous for writing its own code of ethics that its members should always abide by.
The four tenets of SPJ’s official code of ethics are as follows:
1.) Seek Truth and Report It
2.) Minimize Harm
3.) Act Independently
4.) Be Accountable
When breaking down these tenets in regards to WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks researched and dug up the truth behind the corruption of the U.S. government and military, and reported it to the Internet world to provide its viewers the opportunity to analyze and make their own informed decision regarding the scandal. WikiLeaks acted independently in its research, obtaining top secret documents that would have otherwise remained unpublished to mainstream society. WikiLeaks was also being accountable in its publishings, never once denying the fact that they indeed obtained the documents and published them for all to read. But in regards to the second tenet, Minimize Harm, was WikiLeaks looking to minimize harm, or expose the truth? Was WikiLeaks considering who these documents might harm? Do they harm the American public, the strategy of the U.S. military and the soldiers performing these acts? Or were the documents published to minimize the harm done to the innocent civillians of the Middle East who the American soldiers were ‘murdering’ (as some might or might not call it).
I do not have the answers to these rhetorical questions, but Assange and WikiLeaks upheld three of four SPJ tenets. Being the Vice President of the Ithaca College chapter of SPJ and studying journalism at an institution where we are taught to always report the truth, I must side with WikiLeaks.
Assange was simply doing what Daniel Ellsberg and Neil Sheehan did decades before him, exposing the corruption in the actions and decision making of the United States. 40 years after the release of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg is portrayed as a monumental figure in the world of media, both mainstream and independent, setting a precedence never before seen.
In 40 years will Assange be viewed the same way? Or will he be viewed as the man who unethically exposed the United States government? Only time will tell.