Viewsdesk - chasing the global public sphere

December 2010

Censorship and Meta23:56, December 7, 2010

Today I was a guest at TV4 Nyhetsmorgon, the morning show of Sweden’s biggest tv-channel. On the agenda were the threats against the Internet, with a backdrop of the Wikileaks events. It even included a live-feed from Bahnhof, an ISP, said to house some of Wikileaks’ servers. (“Just how exiting can it be to look at servers?”, I can hear you ask. Well, take a look above!)

My role was to represent Reporters without borders and by my side was Joakim Jardenberg, an Internet aficionado and a very charismatic person at that. He’s also made a follow-up video (sorry folks, only Swedish) on his blog.

I won’t translate the whole discussion we had for you non-Swedish readers. I will, however, write a few things on the things I didn’t talk about. Time is always short in broadcast, and a few technical hiccups made our time in the limelight even shorter.

I would prefer not to get stuck on debating the pros or cons on Wikileaks and their editorial structures or procedures. At the same time the issue is unavoidable as a starting-point of any discussions around freedom on the Internet today.

On Wikileaks’ position and the general sentiment
The amount of pressure on Wikileaks right now is quite extraordinary, and — without sounding too dramatic — I believe the the world is truly at a pivotal moment: either the governments win and there will be a precedent set that publishing state secrets will get your media outlet shut down — just like in China or Iran. Print or broadcast news will succumb too. Or, we stand firm, shoulder to shoulder, and defend publishing such materials in the spirit of transparency.

Wikileaks is not a source. Wikileaks is a publisher. I simply fail to see the difference between Wikileaks, who published the information they got from a source, and the thousands of media outlets who re-published what they got from Wikileaks. If we allow Wikileaks to be identified as a legitimate target, then I can guarantee that the traditional media will be next. All in the name of national security.

On Wikileaks as an organization
As to the lack of transparency within Wikileaks, even though it might be a valid concern from a certain point-of-view, is not something we ask from other media outlets. We don’t advocate the free speech of, say, an Iranian newspaper only if they provide us with detailed financial information. We also don’t grant our support on the basis of whether or not the CEO has good management skills. Neither should this be the terms we impose on Wikileaks.

On the “theater of war”
It’s clear that publishing will change after Wikileaks. The emergence of the Internet over the last decade seems to have come to a crescendo. Journalism is evolving into a new paradigm. In the end, this is not only about Wikileaks. It’s about the future of publishing in a landscape where people have unprecedented access to technology. Where actors are small and mobile. And, where tech-savvy people will enjoy a higher degree of freedom than their neighbors — unless something is done.

We’re used to fighting for freedom of speech in other parts of the world than our own. Suddenly it’s on our turf: and the attacks on the Internet infrastructure are quite mind-boggling. The massive DDoS attacks on both servers and infrastructure are most likely done, at least in part, by a state actor. If that is not a direct attack on free speech, I don’t know what is?

The government’s are not shooting at journalists with bullets this time; but they are firing with other weapons. And these new guns might be just as deadly, and they’re aimed at the world-we-once-knew.

PS. As yet another bonus for you who understand Swedish, there’s a clip below where I speak about these things on the radio last Sunday. I know, this whole post is a shameless self-plug, but please bear with me.

Audio MP3