Wikileaks and the case for responsible journalism

I’ve been following the Julian Assange/Wikileaks story for the last couple of weeks and all I can do is wryly laugh.  Julian Assange, an Australian national and founder and editor in chief of the whistleblower website Wikileaks, was arrested in the United Kingdom, on a Swedish arrest warrant. 

I’ve been following the Julian Assange/Wikileaks story for the last couple of weeks and all I can do is wryly laugh.  Julian Assange, an Australian national and founder and editor in chief of the whistleblower website Wikileaks, was arrested in the United Kingdom, on a Swedish arrest warrant. 

According to the warrant, he is wanted for questioning in relation to rape allegations made against him by two women. According to Assange, his lawyers and thousands of his admirers he’s being prosecuted because of the diplomatic cables that his organization has been leaking for the last few weeks.

The belief is that he’s going to be, somehow, extradited to the United States, where the Justice Department will most definately sure he spends a long time in jail.

Well, I must say that I have fully enjoyed the spectacle, watching governments around the world squirm as they learn what members of the State Department think of them privately. Many truths have been revealed; things that we all knew but couldn’t prove.  Like Shell and Exxon Mobil’s undue influence in the Nigerian corridors of power. Or that China was getting bored with North Korea’s posturing.

Or that Uncle Bob, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe doesn’t have a clue about how to get his nation out of the slump he’s put it in. And yes, I believe that chasing away the white farmers was an act of Russian roulette and now the people have all taken a bullet in the head, figuratively of course, for their troubles; land is pretty useless if you don’t have seed to plant. But I digress.

I think that the biggest issue that the American government has with these leaked diplomatic cables is the fact that they may directly and indirectly injure Americans soldiers, officials and citizens. While I’m pretty sure that that won’t be the US Justice Departments argument in court, I’m positive that that is why they are going to attempt to get him extradited.  

This, in the land of the free and the home of the First Amendment, which protects free speech and the rights of journalists. Obviously, there must be something that forces the US to come down hard on this fellow. Could it possibly be because he is “recklessly” endangering lives?

Many classically trained journalists believe that the ‘story’ is the ultimate goal of their profession. I say nay. I believe that the ultimate goal of any profession is the betterment of society at large. Therefore, if by exercising an aspect of your profession you are endangering the safety of your social milieu I believe that, as a responsible human, you must desist from doing so.

That is where Mr. Assange, I believe, got it horribly wrong. While a few of the leaks were harmless, and others hilarious, some might result in the loss of human life. Is the public’s right to know and free speech greater than the right to life?

That is an issue that Rwanda has met head on. The laws that guide the media in this country might give the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders heartburn, but we’ve chosen to care more about our people rather than lofty principles that really don’t apply ANYWHERE in the world.  One cannot live in a world where one pretends that media cannot be used for evil.

One cannot pretend that Kangura and Radio Libres des Millies Collines didn’t actively call for the extermination of millions of Rwandans. Or pretend that the world isn’t a dangerous place. Free speech doesn’t allow you to scream “fire” in a crowded theatre. And nor should it.

I will end on this note. Rwanda’s critics can rank Rwanda lower than Somalia vis-à-vis media freedom any day of the week and twice on Sunday’s. But can somebody please ask a Somali journalist where they’d prefer to report from?

sunnyntayombya@newtimes.co.rw

 

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