Sunday, 19 May 2013

Freedom of information: a window?

You may not agree that the glory days of newspaper journalism are long gone.  Perhaps you think that the Washington Post's Watergate investigation which led to the eventual resignation of US President Nixon was less than stellar reporting.  Maybe you think that the meek way almost the entire mainstream media accepted the US and UK lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to go to war was an isolated collective error of judgement.  If so, you and I have quite different opinions on the way that newspaper reporting has changed over the years.

But perhaps we agree on something else: that the Wikileaks revelations told us things about how the US conducted its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how its emissaries around the world conducted business with foreign powers gave us an unprecedented grandstand view of events that most of us never hear about.  Perhaps you think, along with Senator Joe Lieberman, that the leaks were "outrageous, reckless and despicable" but I hope you would fall short of Sarah Palin's call to pursue Julian Assange with the same urgency that Al-Qaida leaders were pursued, or Congressman Mike Rogers' threat to have foreign national Assange executed for treason against the US.  Nevertheless the scale of what we learnt via Bradley Manning and Julian Assange cannot be denied.

The point of this post is not to persuade you to my view (that Manning and Assange are among the great heros of our time).  It is more to alert you to the fact that, if you care about knowing what is going on in the world, you have just lived through a short period where we the people had information about how great powers operate of a magnitude that we might not see again for a very long time.

The intense efforts that the US and UK governments went to in order to suppress events in the Afghan and Iraqi wars, and the publication of US diplomatic cables tell us how much they were embarrassed by the Wikileaks collaboration with the Guardian and other newspapers.  I have no doubt that they have ramped up their security to prevent a repeat.  In any case the US retaliation against Manning has been so severe that other potential leakers of his persuasion might well think again (certainly Julian Assange himself is in no hurry to be extradited to Sweden in case he is handed over to US authorities).  Furthermore the US authorities are now pursuing the Associated Press organisation by subpoena-ing phone records that might bear on the CIA successfully thwarting a plot by al-Qaeda in Yemen to blow up a U.S. jetliner (this is not the first such aggressive subpoena act).

So don't expect anything as informative as the Wikileak bonanza to strike again for a very long time.
Therefore my take home message is this.  Have a good luck at what we already have.  You can go to the Wikileaks web site itself.  However you might find this is more than you can handle!  It is vast.  Instead you might try the Guardian site which is very well-organised and will tell you also a lot about the politics associated with the reaction of the US and the UK.

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