Contributed by members of the Media Entertainment and Arts alliance (MEAA)
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has responded quickly to the arrest of Julian Assange in London and the serving of an application for extradition to the United States. Responding to the way Assange is being treated, and serious concern that this is an attack on the rights of journalists to tell the truth and expose wrongdoing in the corridors of power, has compelled the journalists’ union to send a letter to the British and Australian governments, urging them to oppose the extradition to the United States.
It recognises the crucial role of whistleblowers in exposing wrongdoing and points out that many news organisations have collaborated in, and this includes Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, bringing the truth to public attention. This means that what is being done to Julian Assange is discriminatory and wrong.
The full test of the letter is reproduced below. It was sent to the United Kingdom’s High Commissioner Vicki Treadell, to the Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Penny Wong.
Re: Julian Assange
We write to convey concerns about the possible extradition to the United States of Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks, and urge the UK and Australian governments to oppose extradition to that country.
Mr Assange is an Australian citizen and has been a member of MEAA’s Media Section – the trade union and professional association of Australian media workers – since 2007.
MEAA is concerned that Mr Assange is facing possible extradition to the United States regarding WikiLeaks’ publication of US government files nine years ago. We believe a prosecution of WikiLeaks’ personnel will have a chilling effect on the public’s right to know what governments do in the name of their citizens.
It is a principle of a free press that the media have a duty to scrutinise the powerful and to hold them to account. The media report legitimate news stories that are in the public interest.
WikiLeaks was established in a way to allow whistleblowers seeking to publicly expose wrongdoing to upload material anonymously and with no possibility of being traced. This is common practice among media organisations around the world – using technology that allows whistleblowers to submit material to a media outlet anonymously and confidentially.
On April 5, 2010 WikiLeaks revealed US military gunsight video showing US military helicopters killing two Reuters war correspondents, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, in Iraq on July 12 2007.
The publication of US diplomatic cables in November-December 2010 was done with the full collaboration of numerous media outlets in several countries including the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Australia, The Guardian in the United Kingdom, The New York Times in the US, El Pais in Spain, Le Monde in France and Der Spiegel in Germany. None of these media outlets have been cited in any US government legal actions as a result of the publishing they have done in collaboration with WikiLeaks.
In 2011 the WikiLeaks organisation was awarded the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism – in recognition of the impact WikiLeaks’ actions had on public interest journalism by assisting whistleblowers to tell their stories. The judges said WikiLeaks applied new technology to “penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup”.
Extradition of Mr Assange and prosecution by the United States would set a disturbing global precedent for the suppression of press freedom.
We welcome the provision of Australian consular assistance. We urge that he be provided with medical assistance if required. The Australian and UK governments should publicly oppose the extradition of Mr Assange to the United States.
Marcus Strom, federal president – MEAA Media
Paul Murphy, chief executive – MEAA