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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Guest Blogger: ‘Reckless Courage’ by Lanre Idowu

There is probably no human being today who is currently affecting world discourse as it relates to the power and reach of the media of mass communication more than Julian Paul Assange. He is the 39-year-old Australian publisher of WikiLeaks, the website dedicated to exposing official secrets.

An intriguing man, Assange is the rave and rant of the moment in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Australasia and Africa because he has triggered a revolution in information dissemination by releasing tonnes of classified U. S. diplomatic cables via the Internet. The daily disclosure, which began November 28, is already sharing juicy, shocking, and embarrassing details of behind the scenes occurrences in the diplomatic world with a global audience.

When he launched the site in 2007, Assange’s guiding philosophy was to build a more transparent society where citizens will access information that would otherwise have been shielded from them. He argued that “since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.”

Assange’s brand of information packaging attracted global notice in no time. His expose on extrajudicial killings in Kenya, ‘The Cry of blood---Extra Judicial Killings and Disappearances’, won him the 2009 Amnesty International Media Award (New Media). He also won the 2008 Economist Index on Censorship Award.

The current adventure harps on leaking information to build an open and more just society. In a recent blog, he says, “the more secretive or unjust an organisation is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie”. Assange’s concept of justice not only includes unflattering character sketches about leaders of other nations, but also indiscreet disclosures about conduct of war, and compromising dispatches about people and situations from U. S. diplomats and their field contacts.

While the excitement caused by this latest development has won Assange many fans that see it as rare insight into the workings of government and big fillip for free flow of information, it has equally attracted the scorn of opponents that range from governments to corporations and individuals, who dismiss it as infantile and dangerous.

While sympathetic hackers are threatening his corporate critics their websites are legitimate targets of attack, the Australian government has virtually disowned him as its citizen and the U. S. government is contemplating charging him under the Espionage Act for his impetuous disclosures.

His Swiss bank (donation) account has been closed by Post Finance, the financial arm of the Swiss Post Office, on grounds of giving false information about his residency. Amazon.com and Paypal have severed dealings with WikiLeaks for “promoting illegal activities”. MasterCard is contemplating a similar action all in the bid to limit the site’s funding channels.

WikiLeaks web access was shut down by an American company only for it to be resurrected by a Swiss company. Leading individuals have called him a ‘high tech terrorist’, a danger to the world who should be placed on the ‘kill list’ and have his foreign terrorist organisation taken out. The Swedish authorities have asked Scotland Yard to invite him for questioning that may lead to possible extradition to answer charges of sexual assault.

Assange’s antecedents mark him out as a peculiar revolutionary. As a youth, he cut the picture of notoriety by hacking into computers of various organisations. He was so good at it that he formed a three-member organisation in Australia, International Subversives, that specialised in hacking computers, primarily to retrieve and share information. After pleading guilty to 24 charges, he was convicted and fined in 1992.

It is this hacker’s mentality that has been his strength and weakness. In deploying his good knowledge of information technology to expand the concept of the public’s right to know through WikiLeaks, especially where the public good is threatened, Assange demonstrated power with responsibility. But in his failure to understand that every calling has its methods, every job its rules, and that not all information belongs in the public space, he wields power irresponsibly.
Yes, information is power, but when it is used without sufficient regard for the public good it can be counterproductive, raising doubts about the propelling force behind the crusade. By making public the trove of information given confidentially especially that bordering on the conduct of war, without adequate redaction, he stands accused of narrowing the frontiers of cooperation crucial to international diplomacy.

By enslaving his methods to the excitement of the click of the computer, he betrays a shocking lack of understanding that the transparency he seeks to achieve is the ultimate casualty of his latest misadventure. Rather than free flow of diplomatic dispatches, the wordings will be more restrained, the sources more guarded, and the safety of contacts crucial to promoting national interests and international cooperation imperilled.

Assange’s misadventure is a lesson to our local wannabes to clean up their acts by containing their unbridled exuberance that sometimes weakens the public’s faith in their otherwise enterprising disclosures and to be fastidious in painting the bigger picture always.
Julian Assange was arrested in London yesterday by British authorities following a Swedish warrant for alleged sexual offences.

Published in Next. 8th December 2010.

Editor's Note: Good day all. In line with ending the year on a high note, the Inaugural Mayowa Idowu Cool/Power List styled in the mould of Vibe Magazine's Juice List shall begin to run Saturday onwards. This is our way of pushing the culture forward whilst recognising people under 21 who are making things happen. Kindly tell a friend to tell a friend so that it would take off with buzz so large it could sell a blank disk. (Apologies to Drake) .Laughs.

Stay Blessed,



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