Definition of irony: event in London on censorship and Wikileaks bans photography and recording (updated)

At City University, London, right now is a conference titled “Too much information? Security and censorship in the age of Wikileaks.” The speakers are: Jonathan Dimbleby, chair; Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder; and David Aaronovitch, The Times.

Ironically, the event’s website states

Please note it will not be possible to take photos or recordings during this event.

At the event, the audience was reminded that they may not take pictures of the panel with Julian Assange.

Confusingly, the organizers also said:

We hope to run a live stream of the event, the link to this will be posted at www.city.ac.uk/journalism

Alas, there is no information on the webcast.

Tweets from the event so far include:

AarrBee: Assange seems to be suggesting Wikileaks doesn't need to be accountable, because others aren't. Not persuaded.

umaronline: Q: How do you decide what is published? - Assange > 'We are a publisher. We're funded by the public. The public decides.'

More to follow…

UPDATE: The City University event was “live tweeted” by numerous people in attendance, which is good because apparently Julian Assange did not want cameras or microphones or a webcast because he didn’t want it to be a press conference. This frustrated a journalist from Japan’s NHK at the event (as well as virtually everybody else). None the less, following the discussion, which was extended some 15 minutes, the press surrounded Assange and apparently had their time with him.

Below are some key points taken from the live feed (search on the poorly conceived long tag #wikileaksatcity). Hopefully City University will provide either a transcript or an intelligent and comprehensive reporting of the event lest a seemingly mediocre event (as “viewed” through live tweets) will drop to a lower level.

Assange asserted that Wikileaks does not need to be transparent: governments should be transparent, not persons. Assange also apparently does not feel he or Wikileaks should be accountable for his actions because a) journalists are not accountable, and b) governments are not accountable, so why should he? This apparently raised the question of who guards who? The media covers the media (admittedly this is in decline as ownership becomes concentrated but new services are popping up…), as do empowered individuals, but who covers Wikileaks and holds them accountable? Aaronovitch responded that Wikileaks has gained substantial power and must act with greater responsibility.

Aaronvitch apparently asked that in the debate over ethics that puts journalists at the bottom of the trust pile (see recent Gallup poll of US media), does Wikileaks deserve to join them? Assange apparently tried to focus on the owner of The Times, Aaronvitch’s employer, Rupert Murdoch, and “his influence on global politics.” Assange apparently said The Times is shady and has a hold on European politicians. The irony of influence apparently being lost on Assange.

Assange at one point apparently tried to dismiss Aaronvitch because he works for Murdoch

On the point of donor lists, Assange stated he does not see the donor lists (there were tweets that he said this was by law, but perhaps he meant a “firewall”). How then can Wikileaks assert they have not received a donation from the Chinese government? Was it the $20m figure that was too great (was the number wrong? perhaps 20k Euro?)? If I were the Chinese (or Russians or Iranians), I would certainly find a way to fund Wikileaks.

Assange apparently answered the question of why the US is apparently his (Wikileaks’s) main target: US is the predominant economic and military power.

On the selection of material to publish, Assange apparently stated “we take on cases like lawyers take on clients…We will represent them in the court of public opinion.” He also said he follows the directions of his clients (previously he said he packages and disseminates for “maximum political impact”).

Possibly missing from this debate – again, I’m only going off of Tweets so maybe it was raised – is whether Wikileaks acts like a journalist (e.g. interpreting events) or simply a publisher or pass-through.

The irony of no photos or recording was not lost on many remote or in-person viewers. Perhaps he anticipated not-soft (can’t really call them “hard questions” and I couldn’t tell if the questions covered the gamut they should have) questioning and that contributed to his apparent requirement of no live feed Otherwise, why would City University, ostensibly broadcasting from a media center, have complied? Assange is no shrinking violet and has proven to be comfortable speaking to audiences, such as TED, Colbert, Russia Today (and if I recall PressTV), and elsewhere.

Overall, the event was mediocre at best, brought down by the need to “view” the event only through Twitter. As it was, little on censorship was apparently discussed, except with respect to opacity in WL’s operations. The greatest value was the insight in Assange’s personality when he’s not being tossed softballs. 

Wikileaks is an interesting subject to study because it is a stateless influence operation, a propagandist to some and megaphone to others, controlling the initial dissemination of its content through online media with the intent of shaping the interpretation and rebroadcast of the information through multiple mediums. Wikileaks is a clear example of “Now Media” and the need to move beyond the labels of “old media” and “new media”.

UPDATE II: below are some of the articles from major media on the event.