It seems we have officially entered the era of WikiLeaks.
Is this website the most significant achievement for freedom of expression, or rather a dangerous manifestation of the postmodern press?
One journalist’s description of the website’s founder, Julian Assange, as an “Information Terrorist”, highlights the problematic issue that Assange has raised by throwing these classified documents in our faces in this sporadic manner.
The information disclosed by WikiLeaks was significant, but it hardly came as a surprise. One wonders about the implications of such information and how it can serve to further transparency, when we all know that governments, having been alarmed by these leaks, will start working to ensure that no additional classified documents or embarrassing secrets are disclosed in the future.
The numerous questions, regarding the content of the leaked documents themselves have drawn attention away from the actual propriety and ethicality of making these disclosures.
These classified documents prove what had previously been suggested about a contrast between the public positions of governments in international politics and their actual stances, with the language of this contrast resembling the everyday talk of the man on the street. On the other hand, the majority of the content revealed in these leaks is nothing more than gossip, but on the international and intercontinental level. While this adds a certain thrill and excitement to the material, it lacks serious journalistic substance.
Yet because we are dealing with official documents, rather than verbal news spread through idle chatter, leaking such content online is an act of piracy. However, to condemn what Assange has done is to condemn the disclosure of such information, and this is information that the public – which has been exposed to the lies and hypocrisy of their governments – has a right to know, and it is these lies and hypocrisy that the leaked documents revealed. In other words, this condemnable act has performed a function which cannot be condemned. This leads us to think of how we came to be in this predicament. Should we condemn WikiLeaks, or praise it and sit on the edge of our seats, waiting for its next batch of revelations?
We must also not forget that officials managed to keep all of this information from us until a cunning pirate managed to expose it and bring it to light.
However, this does not mean that we are going to praise WikiLeaks, because this act of piracy has failed to achieve its primary objective. It has failed to use the leaked diplomatic cables in order to prevent a recurrence of such non-diplomatic practices, or to hold the perpetrators to account.
WikiLeaks has essentially done little more than provide documentation for what we already know. However the question that remains is whether WikiLeaks can be classified as investigative journalism. Assange basically compiled a set of documents, and threw them in our faces, without placing the incidents in their chronological, social and geographic context; which is what a true investigative journalism would have done.