4 things the media won’t tell you about Assange

English: Demonstration in front of Sydney Town...

Demonstration in front of Sydney Town Hall in support of Julian Assange, 2010, December 10 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media interest in the Julian Assange case reached fever pitch again this week with the Ecuadorian government’s decision to grant him asylum. As usual though, much of the coverage continues to ignore important facts and context, spin the story in a way that suit their own political and economic agendas or simply attack Assange and anyone that disagrees with them. It’s important to highlight some important facts that are routinely being ignored in the media regarding the current plight of the WikiLeaks founder.

1. Assange has already been questioned once in Sweden.

The prosecution is perfectly within its right to re-question Assange but hardly a single media outlet offers any context by mentioning the fact that he’s already been questioned once in Sweden and released without charge. Shortly after, the interview transcript was mysteriously leaked to the Swedish press. Nor does the media highlight that Assange waited for 5 weeks before being granted permission to leave the country and continue his work on the War Logs and Cablegate releases with The Guardian in the UK. Some newspapers, especially in Sweden, instead say that he “fled” the country implying that he is somehow “on the run” from the allegations.

2. Assange is willing to return to Sweden but prosecutors can also question him in the UK.

Assange has stated his willingness to return to Sweden if a legal guarantee is made that he will not be extradited to the USA for his work with WikiLeaks. However, there is no compelling reason for him to be in Sweden for questioning. It is standard Swedish practice that when there is no charge and someone is merely wanted for questioning, it can be conducted anywhere in the world including over the phone and via video call. Swedish prosecutors also frequently travel to other countries to question suspects as they did recently to question a man suspected of murder in Serbia. In Assange’s case however, Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye is insisting that Assange must physically be in Sweden to be questioned. No reason has been given for this inflexibility but Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter justifies it by saying it is “a matter of prestige” for Sweden.

3. There is mounting evidence that the US are compiling a criminal case against Assange.

There is enough to suggest that Assange’s legal team’s fears are justified. Australian diplomatic cables released to the Sydney Morning Herald under the freedom of information act reveal that the Australian government has confirmed that WikiLeaks has been the target of a US Justice Department investigation in Australia “unprecedented both in its scale and nature”. The Australian government also suggests that media reports that a secret grand jury has been convened in Alexandria, Virginia, were ”likely true”. In addition, the WikiLeaks Stratfor Intelligence releases revealed that the Stratfor vice president Fred Burton claimed that: “We have a sealed indictment on Assange“. Besides this, considering the atrocious treatment of Bradley Manning currently in a military jail in the US for allegedly leaking documents to Assange, you don’t have to wear a tin-foil hat to believe that the US will do whatever it takes to get their hands on Assange and make an example of him.

4. It’s actually easier for the US to extradite Assange from Sweden than the UK.

Many people dismiss Assange’s US extradition fears on the basis that if it wanted Assange, it would be easier to get him from the UK anyway. However, it’s actually considerably harder to extradite him from the UK for various reasons. One is that the UK does not have the “temporary surrender” extradition agreement that exists between Sweden and the USA which can be used to override current international extradition agreements and effectively give the US “instant” extradition powers. Another problem is that if the US were to issue an extradition order for Assange from the UK to the US, it would put the UK in a very difficult position because normally, the first extradition request received from Sweden would have to be honored first. In addition, the more diverse media and greater public support in the UK are factors that would make it harder for the US to extradite from the UK. And for all those that think that the Swedish justice system is somehow the best in the world, the Human Rights Watch archive on Sweden makes some interesting reading.

24-08-12: It’s since come to my attention that the “temporary surrender” agreement also exists between the US and UK which is definitely something that many of Assange’s supporters don’t seem to be aware of. However, the same problem would apply – since Sweden has already issued an extradition request, it would put the British Government in a very tricky position. There’s an interesting discussion on this here.

There are many more examples of facts and context routinely left out in media coverage that are important to understanding the Assange case. These are some of the more important ones but as the propaganda war goes on in this increasingly dramatic legal battle, they surely won’t be the last.

Postscript: If you want a really revealing and disturbing insight into how the sex allegations against Assange in Sweden unfolded, read the comment thread on my original post about Assange written almost exactly 2 years ago today.

Julian Assange: Trial by media

Julian Assange

Image by acidpolly via Flickr

Tomorrow morning Julian Assange will start his final legal battle over extradition to Sweden in the UK Supreme Court. The liberal media that were once in bed with him however passed judgement a long time ago during his 400+ days under house arrest without charge.

In fact, it seems certain liberal journalists have now declared some kind of media fatwā on both Assange and anyone who dares stand-up for him.  Even I, hardly a high profile target, was recently called an “Assange apologist” by renowned American investigative journalist Heather Brooke who slurs his supporters as “Assangistas”. Meanwhile her former colleague at The Guardian David Leigh has called Assange “some sort of dirty, flaky hacker from Melbourne”.

Other liberal journalists have joined in on the Assange gang-bang. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen has dismissed him as nothing more than “an attention seeker”. In The New York Times,  John Burns described him as “On the Run” and “Trailed by Notoriety”. And in Sweden, Aftonbladet’s Dan Joseffson called him “a lonely and broken neo-liberal who wants to tear down democracy.”

How things have changed. Little more than a year ago, all of the above journalists and their newspapers welcomed Assange with open arms to publish the War Logs and Cablegate. In the case of Aftonbladet, they were even about to sign-him to write a regular column. Now they think he stinks – some of them quite literally. Is this really a particularly strong delayed reaction to Assange’s alleged hygiene or it something to do with the fact that the most powerful government in the world and its corporate backers would like to re-write the law books and charge Assange – and some of those that allegedly collaborated him with him – with espionage?

The way the liberal mainstream have abandoned Assange says a lot about how it operates when power really hits back – it becomes very reactionary. This is because the same corporate interests that own the liberal media, either directly through ownership or through advertising, are under attack from organizations such as WikiLeaks. In liberal societies, a certain amount of dissent has to be tolerated to give the impression of a critical and democratic mainstream media that holds power to account. But there are permissible limits to this dissent as the case of Assange and WikiLeaks has shown.

Some of the journalists and publications involved are also understandably worried. If the US can re-write the rulebook and somehow extradite Assange on “espionage” charges for merely giving whistleblowers a voice, then Leigh, Brooke, Burns and all the other newspapers that worked with him can theoretically be implicated as well.

This hostility from the liberal end of the media spectrum in the West means it’s no surprise that Assange has had to turn to Russia Today in order to continue his work. Assange will surely be under no illusions that he won’t have the freedom to critically discuss anything that compromises Russian interests when working for the Kremlin’s propaganda arm. But he will have the freedom to go beyond what the Western mainstream media are willing to discuss on their own doorstep.

Which only reiterates why WikiLeaks, and projects like it, are still so desperately needed in the West to extend the acceptable spectrum of dissent in the mainstream media.