“Journalism is not a crime”. Really? I’d say this slogan is hardly unassailable. I’d say this slogan, which began to appear in hashtag and t-shirt form when the Australian journalist Peter Greste was detained for his journalism practice, needs a second, a third, a seventeenth unflinching look.
Surely, Sarah Ferguson’s fantasy Putin trilogy, which concluded last night on Four Corners, is a form of public assault. Surely, the pages of The Australian that continue to argue for the upward redistribution of wealth in a time of great precarity are indecent. Surely at the time of Greste’s arrest, the refusal of local journalists to name our national support for US policy in Egypt was colossal negligence. Apparently, it was fine to bankroll the coup without which Greste would never have been interned.
Australian journalism is, in great part, a bunch of self-interested arse. No. Make that self-interested frequently racist arse.
You can’t have your freedom and eat the evidence of it, too. We lent support to foreign policy that made Greste’s journalism a crime. Our nation endorsed the criminalisation of journalism in Egypt, but our journalists, along with our political class, preferred to ponce about saying noble things about “liberty” and the excellent morals of a liberal democracy like ours. Australia denounced the imprisonment and censorship it had helped create.
Australian journalism is, in great part, a bunch of self-interested arse. No. Make that self-interested frequently racist arse. The depictions of Greste as the victim not of coercive Western policy but of Egyptian primitives came easily to a group of people who like to think of themselves as brave. The story here was “You Just Can’t Trust Those Foreigners” and “Aren’t You Glad We Tell the Truth in a Civilised Country”.
If you were reading Australian press at the time of Greste’s confinement, you’d only conclude those brown people were to blame.
If you are reading Australian press right now, at the time of Julian Assange’s internment, you’d only conclude that the man got himself into all that trouble.
As I write, almost six years to the hour from Assange’s application to Ecuador for political asylum, the “journalism” of Four Corners plays to a national audience. Ferguson has promoted the speculation around interference by Russia in the last US election as “the story of the century”.
How is this the story even of a particularly slow month in Australia? First, US, and European, media is knocking itself out explaining the defeat of Hillary Clinton by a divisive and evil empire. If you’re Still With Her, you have a global oversupply of not just stories but entire media conglomerates to persuade you that the second least popular presidential candidate in US election history lost for reasons other than her failure to visit or give a visible shit about the voters in flyover states.
Even those who work on reputable, award-winning programs like Four Corners are now wont to publicly endorse things that we should only say at the pub.
FFS, Four Corners. The only compelling evidence to date that links “Russia”—not, in fact, a synonym for Putin—to involvement in the 2016 campaign comes to us from a social media sales department. A reported $100,000 was spent by possibly Russian persons on distribution of very poor propaganda on Facebook. Many, many millions more were spent by nominees Clinton and Trump, so just how some pic of the Democratic nominee with photoshopped devil horns turned it all around is anybody’s guess.
Anybody’s, but a journalist’s. Even those who work on reputable, award-winning programs like Four Corners are now wont to publicly endorse things that we should only say at the pub. The printed sentiment “Assange is Putin’s bitch” was retweeted by the program’s executive producer Sally Neighbour following Sarah Ferguson’s interview with Hillary Clinton. A failed presidential candidate selling her book and the falsehood that The Russians had “hacked” an election.
You may not concur that such journalism is a crime. You may even consider it persuasive, crucial to the unfolding of this century and entirely justified in its overuse of a malevolent synthesiser soundtrack. You may be too young or too forgetful to recall that such histrionics were once the work of programs like Today Tonight or Hard Copy. You may even enjoy dramatic re-enactments of Real Life Events that never were as entertainment.
You may not, however, sincerely believe that “journalism is not a crime” and also sincerely believe that the criminalisation of WikiLeaks’ founder makes perfect sense. Not, unless, you’re thinking with the depth of many Australian journalists.
Julian Assange is not a criminal. He is no longer wanted for questioning on sexual assault charges by Swedish authorities. He was not charged with sexual assault. Swedish authorities requested in 2013 that Britain drop the case for extradition. British authorities did not agree to abandon this until 2017. British authorities, however, uphold the warrant that relates to the questioning in which Swedish authorities have no interest. This year, a British judge refused a request for overturning the warrant. Former Greek finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis suggests a possible conflict of interest by that judge, and all the while, US authorities make it very clear that they intend to put Assange before other judges. Former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Assange’s organisation a “hostile” spy agency.
But, Wikileaks is a publication. Julian Assange is a journalist. Journalism is not a crime, right?
Greste describes what he saw in Egypt. Assange publishes unredacted and always verified documents that describe what we cannot see in Western power. You may recall, perhaps, that once you championed the revelations about Western power he made possible. You may now have read one too many shallow non analyses about “Putin’s bitch” to believe there is anything deceptive about Western power at all.
Julian Assange is not a criminal. Julian Assange is a journalist. Julian Assange is an Australian who has been, in the judgement of the United Nations, arbitrarily detained for six years, almost to the hour. And if you’ve found a way to celebrate, excuse or explain this to yourself, perhaps you have what it takes to serve the delusions of Australian journalism.