The Home Secretary of the UK, Priti Patel, has approved extraditing Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to the US. Concerns have been raised as to whether this would be an impediment to press freedom. But this move is not a threat to press freedom. It is, however, one that sets out prioritising national security over irresponsible ‘investigative journalism’.
The extradition is part of a long legal battle between Assange and US authorities, following the leaking of highly classified documents in 2010 and 2011 in relation to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. US authorities allege that Assange broke the law and endangered lives.
Julian Assange has 14 days to appeal the decision to extradite him. But given that he appears to have no strong argument to appeal on human rights grounds, it is highly likely that his appeal will be unsuccessful.
Naturally Assange’s wife, Stella Morris, has claimed that he has done ‘nothing wrong’ and ‘he has committed no crime.’ But the most striking claim from Morris is that Assange is a ‘journalist’ and was just ‘doing his job’. Stella Morris is joined by Andrew Neil, the former BBC presenter, in defending Julian Assange’s actions.
Andrew Neil, in a column for Mail+, has claimed, in relation to freedom of the press, that extraditing Assange is like a ‘stake over the heart of these freedoms, which are essential to any proper democracy’.
Using Julian Assange as a poster boy to stand up for the press highlights the lack of attention given to what he has actually done, and has instead shifted the focus onto the apparent threat facing the free press. This diversion tactic ignores why the Home Secretary was right to have him extradited and why press freedom is not at risk.
Julian Assange, along with Chelsea Manning, the then US army intelligence analyst, hacked into Pentagon computers. Using a username not associated with Manning, to help make it more difficult to trace, the pair managed to access highly classified and sensitive documents with the sole purpose of distributing it to the general public. But this puts national security at risk.
Whilst the US public and the world at large have every right to know what atrocities have taken place by US forces, this is not and should not be done whilst risking the security of the very nation you’re hoping to expose this information too.
That Assange and Manning thought it would be okay to release this information in the way they did, shows that either they were naïve or, they knew what they were doing. I would hazard the guess, that it was the latter. There is simply no way you can release highly classified and sensitive information and not expect hostile foreign nations to not be able to use it to injure the US.
The authorities quite rightly are seeking to charge Assange with hacking rather than publishing. This is the only apparent way to get around the First Amendment to protect freedom of speech and the press assembly.
What is more crucial, especially for Stella Morris and Andrew Neil, is that the US are not opposed to journalists’ ‘just doing their jobs’, they are in fact in favour of it – this is written into their constitution. But being a journalist means you have to play by the rules, you cannot go rouge, as it appears Assange has done and you cannot believe the law does not apply to you just because you’re a journalist.
By claiming Julian Assange is a journalist and was just doing his job, does nothing more that re-write the responsibilities attached to the role. Meandering between the moral need to expose the truth and the moral need to adhere to journalistic standards, should not be a difficult journey. There are plenty of journalists that are able to achieve this and have acted with integrity. Julian Assange is not one of them.
Press freedoms are not at risk from irresponsible journalists, but irresponsible journalists are at risk from being part of the free press. This is why extraditing Juliane Assange is not a risk to the free press, but rather it is a move to strengthen national security against irresponsible journalists.
Wasiq Wasiq is a journalist specializing in defence and terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter: @WasiqUK