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Why Julian Assange will be a columnist for Aftonbladet

From 14 August 2010.


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STOCKHOLM (Rixstep) — Two years is a long time; a lot of things can change in two years. Two years ago Julian Assange was welcomed to Sweden and heralded as a new messiah. He gave online chats to all the big newspapers (with the notable exception of Expressen). Swedes foresaw a new era dawning where they would once again be the conscience of the world, a beacon of light in times of darkness.

The following post by Aftonbladet's editor in chief Jan Helin was published two years ago, on 14 August 2010, the day of Julian Assange's talk in Stockholm, the day of his crayfish party, and one week precisely before events in the 'Venice of the north' would take their terribly twisted turn.

Two years ago there were few observers who knew of the intimate ties between Sweden and the CIA, between Sweden's current prime minister and Karl Rove, between the Swedish cabinet and the staff of the US embassy off Strandvägen in Stockholm.

Two years ago James Ball was still at TBIJ or WikiLeaks, David Leigh was trying to get Julian Assange to trust him with a copy of Cablegate, Alan Rusbridger was giving Julian Assange all possible assurances in writing about their arrangement, and Daniel Domscheit-Berg was in exile in Berlin with his wife and equal.

Two years ago the world saw a hope.



Why Julian Assange will be a columnist for Aftonbladet

So Aftonbladet will enter into a partnership with WikiLeaks. I've met the WikiLeaks editor and spokesman on two occasions. Yesterday we reached an agreement on our partnership.

Julian Assange will write a column for Aftonbladet approximately every other month. I've no idea how he writes, but it's guaranteed he's got the most exciting brain in the world right now when it comes to issues about freedom of speech. Very powerful forces want to shut down Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks network. Right there you know it's a good idea to listen to Julian Assange.

It's no accident Julian Assange chose Aftonbladet, despite the fact his media partners up to now have been some of the world's biggest newspapers - such as the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and the Guardian. Of course Aftonbladet doesn't have the same clout in the world as they do, but even if we're small in that context, we've got a few things to offer to make us interesting.

That Aftonbladet is the leading digital media house in Sweden, in a way that's received some international recognition, is perhaps one reason, but it isn't the most important one. The most important one is that we're in Sweden. Our legislation for freedom of the press offers the best source protection in the world. It's illegal to dig after sources - a comforting fact if you've got the Pentagon breathing down on you because you exposed and published tens of thousands of classified documents about their war in Afghanistan.

Aftonbladet will assist WikiLeaks in their work to acquire a Swedish publisher's permit and to grant Julian Assange the formal status of publisher in Sweden. But Aftonbladet will not become the publisher of WikiLeaks. Such an arrangement would not be reasonable. Julian Assange spoke in Stockholm today about how Sweden has become an 'asylum' for the new global publicists. This is an interesting situation. Interesting as well is the discussion of the effects of the massive publications by WikiLeaks.

Dagens Nyheter today joins the criticism by Amnesty and Reporters Without Borders who say WikiLeaks risk the lives of civilians in Afghanistan who have supplied information to the warring NATO forces there. This is an interesting discussion, but objectively it seems a bit uncritical. So far WikiLeaks have refrained from publishing approximately 15,000 documents precisely for the reason that people might come to harm if their identities were known. WikiLeaks are working right now on making these documents available without risk to the informers. We'll see how well they succeed.

The military powers WikiLeaks exposed with their publications have however a burdensome responsibility for a great many civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The balance between this scrutiny, or exposure, of the military power and the risk the new transparency can mean for innocents is horribly complex. I can't think of a more important discussion about freedom of speech for our world right now. WikiLeaks are best in the world at using and navigating in our new media. They're a network of the real Lisbeth Salander shaking the the world's most powerful structures.

The power of WikiLeaks became obvious this spring when we got our era's counterpart to the pictures from Vietnam - US soldiers mowing down Reuters photographers and civilians in an open street. The film was shown by all the world's media and has over seven million views on YouTube alone. In an article by Johannes Wahlström in Aftonbladet's culture section Julian Assange sums up the reasons he and Chinese dissidents founded WikiLeaks three years ago.

'Some information can create change, and can determine if the world will be a more just place. Those who control this information understand this of course, and this is precisely why they try to keep it secret. Our responsibility on the other hand is to systematically search out and publish precisely this type of information.'

That's a publicist statement most journalists can take to their hearts and most assuredly can live and abide by. But even journalists have to pay the rent, and have owners who want profits, which is why the daily toil cannot be continually inspired by the guiding light of Julian Assange. There is a powerful idealism in WikiLeaks. Perhaps it's why the media who are struggling for survival in a time of great structural upheaval are hesitant about the network - WikiLeaks is mercilessly reminiscent of a driving force without which journalism deteriorates into commercial meaninglessness.

Some people say this exposes journalism as something whose time has passed. No media organisation is as effective as WikiLeaks in plucking in enormous quantities of material and making it available to all. This is true. But the conclusion about journalism is completely wrong. WikiLeaks is impenetrably without journalism. It's impossible to derive something sensible out of the enormous quantities of raw data WikiLeaks publish for whoever wants to know something new about the world but has other things to do all day long.

WikiLeaks challenges journalism in a good way. Journalism based on WikiLeaks documents can be verified by anyone and everyone. Did the journalist use the right angle? Make a reasonable analysis? Represent the base material correctly? WikiLeaks fits in between the scrutinisers and the scrutinised. WikiLeaks makes it possible to scrutinise both journalism and the military powers in Afghanistan. This is unique and this shows the way to an interesting development for journalism: make the source documents freely and fully available.

We have a lot to learn in our partnership with WikiLeaks. And in due course we hope to present a journalism that's the result of the partnership between WikiLeaks and Aftonbladet.

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