How Wikileaks is changing journalism

Tensions were revealed in the relationship between some of the news organisations that collaborated with the whistleblowing organisation Wikileaks in publishing the Afghan War Diary when its founder Julian Assange spoke at a Frontline Club event last night.

Speaking via Skype at a discussion hosted by Paddy O’Connell, presenter of BBC Broadcasting House, Assange said the New York Times articles and its portrayal of US soldier Bradley Manning had been "disgusting".

Assange confirmed that Wikileaks would publish some of the 15,000 documents held back when 70,000 were published on 25 July in conjunction with the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. But it was an "expensive time consuming process" checking the material and they were only "half way" through, Assange said.

"So far there has been no help despite repeated requests, from the White House or the Pentagon, or in fact any of the three press organisations we partnered with for this material," said Assange, who added that the cost could be up to £750,000. "They decided not to take responsibility for getting the raw data out to the public, that is in fact what appears our role, to get the raw data out as opposed to the cherries the organisations decided selectively to give out in relation to their stories."

Simon Rogers, editor of the Guardian’s Datablog said they had thought "long and hard" about the decision whether to publish all of the raw data: "Often it’s our job to choose what we think is interesting and important. On the legal side we are based in London and you can find us."

Media lawyer Mark Stephens, who said that Wikileaks’ release of documents represented "a new challenge to the traditional form of journalism" added that news organisations may move to find the most sympathetic jurisdictions.

"They may have to move or segregate themselves, so the Guardian may still be in York Way but the internet part or data dump will have to be based in Iceland."

The demands of the Pentagon in a press conference last week that Wikileaks hand over documents raised questions about the world’s press, said Assange: "Is it going to be a serious response or is it going to simply put its head in the sand?"

The Wikileaks case also reinforced the fact that journalists "could no longer afford to be innumerate," said FOI journalist and author Heather Brooke. "If you don’t know how to deal with electronic data you are only half way literate."

Brooke also argued that the release of the documents showed us that we have to renegotiate the way we view people in power and also showed up some of the weaknesses of the mainstream media:

 "The media has generally abdicated its responsibility as the fourth estate and in a number of ways it has let down the public, it doesn’t act in the interest of the general public, it’s become coopted by special interests and people in power."


Watch the full event here: