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.


BBC News – Newsnight – Capitalism ‘nothing to do with responsibility’

Definitely worth watching from a great historian.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the UK must “build a better economy” that is fair and worthwhile.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband have also made speeches on the faults of unrestrained free markets.

But, the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm told Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman that capitalism was concerned only with growth and making profit, not responsibility.

via BBC News – Newsnight – Capitalism ‘nothing to do with responsibility’.

How the BBC helped privatise the NHS

One of the “sacred cows” of British society is its National Health Service (NHS). Former politician Tony Benn once quipped that if any British government tried to fully privatize it, “there would be a revolution”. A recent public opinion poll showed a whopping 89% of British people support the NHS over an American style private system. You’d therefore think it would be pretty big news if a decision was taken for a private company to run an NHS hospital for the first time.

Not according to most of the liberal media, particularly the BBC. The main story on the BBC six-o-clock news this evening was that £8 billion pounds of investment is to be made in Britain’s railways (the fruits of which, we’re told, won’t be enjoyed for at least 10 years and that travelers will start paying for in the New Year with fare increases of up to 10%). The second story was that a Conservative Peer, says that poor people living in benefits will be encouraged to “breed” (you know, a bit like dogs do – but dogs on benefits). The third story was that Labour leader Ed Milliband concedes it’s their “fault” that there’s too many of these breeding poor people living on benefits.

Here’s a snapshot of the BBC’s main stories this evening:

No mention of the fact that private company Circle is to take over the running of Cambridgeshire’s Hinchingbrooke hospital to become the first to be entirely run by a private business after it beat another bidder, Serco, to the contract. I think that’s pretty big news that should be one of the main headlines on the evening news or at least on the front page of the BBC website, not tucked away in the Health section.

Of course, it’s only natural that the state-corporate liberal media see it as their role to provide a smokescreen for the corporate takeover of the British state. The BBC may not be a private company but its governors are appointed by the Government – a conflict of interest if ever there was one. Usually they’re a little bit more subtle than this however. With the student protests yesterday for example, their tact was to focus on the isolated instances of violence by a minority. Other methods they use include limiting a debate to two very narrow alternatives which both support state-corporate power or featuring opinions predominantly from only one side of a debate.

But this comes across as rather blatant by the BBC . Incidentally, only Sky News, Channel 4 and the Financial Times even bothered to cover it as far as I can see.

Seymour and Wearing on cuts and ideology

Kings College Cambridge

Author Richard Seymour of the popular Lenin’s Tomb blog and David Wearing of the New Left Project both gave talks in the impressive surrounds of Kings College, Cambridge yesterday in a debate entitled “Necessity or Ideology?” The talks were arranged by the Free University of Cambridge and both men talked for about 20 minutes each followed by a short Q&A session which cut through mainstream media and political propaganda that the UK Government’s £81 billion of public spending cuts are “essential” to save Britain’s economy. Several points came out of the talk which are worth documenting.

  • The cuts have nothing to do with “saving the economy” but everything to do with far-right ideology. Principally, the Conservatives are desperate to convince the corporate community that they are more committed to their interests than New Labour and should once again be the party of choice for big business. The Conservatives lost a lot of ground to Blair’s New Labour which stole the ground from under them and the cuts are their chance to regain this ground. The cuts are intended to demonstrate this to corporate Britain in time for the next election.
  • One simple way of increasing government revenue is to erm, collect tax. Corporations are paying less and less tax on the money they earn in the UK and in some cases, flatly refusing to pay it. This was highlighted recently by Vodafone’s refusal to pay £7 billion of tax to the British government and the protests that followed. There’s a detailed look at how this simple issue could be tackled here by Caroline Lucas and two leading UK tax experts.
  • The power of the corporate liberal media shouldn’t be overestimated too much when it comes to trying to convince people public spending cuts are essential. Although the media can have a powerful effect on convincing the public the effects are necessary, people are still more likely to base their opinions on their everyday experiences. So for example, many are still in favor of nationalising Britain’s public rail network based on their experiences of using the rail network even if the political establishment and corporate media barely ever even mention the idea.
  • Voters are abandoning Labour but also the electoral system in general. Polls indicate that most of these are working class people who feel that New Labour aren’t representing their interests anymore. Why aren’t voters then shifting to more radical alternatives such as the Socialist Labour party? Seymour argued that people withdraw from political participation for many different reasons but a strong likelihood is that they are disillusioned with the entire system as a whole. This suggests that changing the fundamentals of how democracy works may be as essential (if not more so) than building parties and movements that genuinely support workers interest. I personally feel that technology and the internet could be implemented in imaginative ways regarding this point although I’ll save that for another post.

There were probably many more points that came out of the one hour talk that I’ve missed but these are some of the most important off the top of my head. It was great to see a leading university like Cambridge getting behind efforts like this and encouraging to see letters of support like this sent by one of the university lecturers, Priyamvada Gopal.

The event was however a bit too short – it was very difficult for either of them to say much and answer questions in a one hour slot although I understand that the Teach-In event as a whole consisted of other interesting talks throughout the day which required the room. Then again, Kings College is absolutely massive – surely it would have been possible to have found an area that allowed a longer session. It was also a little disappointing to see that two of the most radical writers and bloggers in the UK only attracted a small number of people to listen although maybe the majority of Cambridge’s notoriously privileged university students feel that they are less likely than most to be affected by the spending cuts.

It’s a win-win election for big business

It seems there is a strong possibility that it will be a hung parliament in the UK election tomorrow which unlike as Ali G once suggested, has nothing to do with the size of MP’s dongs.

There’s a simple explanation of what it will mean here on the BBC.

I personally hope parliament will be hung although some argue it will largely favour the Tories because the Lib Dems would side with them on most issues. However, at least it might create some meaningful debate in parliament instead of giving one party a blank slate yet again.

Whatever the results of the General Election tomorrow evening, big business will be laughing all the way to the polling stations. All three main parties are:

Pro-War: All are in favor for the continued occupation of Afghanistan and whichever one wins, you can be guaranteed Britain will be steaming into Iran when the US decides the time is right.


Pro-Privatisation: They all support policies which take power out of public hands and give them over to private tyrannies

In the name of cutting the huge debt that Britain is in, all three parties will make savage cuts in public spending because the British establishment believes in socialism – socialism for the rich i.e. private tyrannies and the state are allowed to squander public money and the public foots the bill.

As in all dysfunctional liberal democracies, there are minor differences that should be considered when voting however. In the US elections, those who didn’t want to see an ultra-right wing government voted for brand Obama while holding their nose in key swing states. The same is true in the UK. If I was in a swing constituency, I would probably vote Labour because I imagine they would be marginally less brutal in their attack on social spending than either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. This is just a hunch though and I might be wrong. And anyone taken-in by Nick Clegg’s “fresh faced alternative” a la Blair 1997, should read this piece.

The bottom line is it doesn’t matter what kind of government Britain has in its current dysfunctional democracy. Private corporate power trumps all and until it is replaced with something more democratic, the government could be run by Ghandi and it wouldn’t be able to make a fundamental change in society.

How dissent is crushed on the high street

“Newsagents take what Smiths [News] tells them is selling well,” says Peter McCaig, of the Independent News Collective, which distributes radical titles such as New Internationalist, Permaculture and Red Pepper. “Which is fair enough. But the result is that money talks. You get porn titles in more easily than any magazine with a political view.”

via Radical magazines fight for survival | Media | The Guardian.

Greedy unions or corporate greed?

It’s the same old story. Thatcher said the unions were too powerful so she got the police and media to beat them up and smashed them. Now New Labour and the corporate mainstream media are doing exactly the same 25 years later.  Seamus Milne says it best today:

But what is truly preposterous is the Tory and media insistence that the dispute confirms the grip trade unions, and the Labour-affiliated Unite in particular, have on the government. As the last couple of days have amply demonstrated, nothing could be further from the truth.

Not only have ministers once again backed the employer in an industrial dispute and denounced the union – as in every other significant national dispute over the past decade – they have resolutely refused to repeal any substantive part of the Thatcher government’s anti-union legislation, which would have almost certainly allowed the BA dispute to be settled last week, if not in December when the courts ruled the first round of strikes unlawful.

As anyone who has followed the twists and turns of New Labour in power over the past 13 years knows perfectly well, it is bankers and businessmen, not trade unionists, who have called the shots – with disastrous consequences for all of us.

via Labour rolls over for BA’s bullies | Seumas Milne | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.

Who do you think are to blame for the world’s financial woes. “Greedy” unions or corporate greed?