Belfast Telegraph

Robert McNeill: Why I'd march in support of WikiLeaks if it's not too far

By Robert McNeill

I don't ever recall being so excited by anything in journalism as the great WikiLeaks controversy.

And, of course, I'm right behind the internet-based organisation which has been practising something that too often gets lost in media agendas and formulaic ways of going about the news-gathering business. That something is the truth.

What has been distressing - apart from the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (below) on sex charges, which I won't comment on until I've heard all the evidence - has been the backlash of some hidebound old reactionaries in the US press.

These children masquerading as responsible adults are generally rightwing nutters who see everything in terms of American imperial 'security concerns'. Their concern is to close down the truth, knowledge of the real motives for wars and diplomatic maneouvres, and even just real opinions regarding what the US thinks of its allies and enemies, much of which has been eye-opening.

It's not as if the Americans have come out of it all that badly in many cases, notably restraining their less subtle allies in the Middle East from flattening other countries, or at least declining their offers to abet such flattenings.

Thus it was with irony detectors in overload that one read of the statement from the US State Department that it was pleased to announce it would be hosting Unesco's World Press Freedom Day in 2011. Perhaps they were pleased that it was just one day.

Unbelievably, under the sub-heading 'New Frontiers, New Barriers', it goes on to explain that the event will commemorate 21st-century media. It says: "New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals' right to the freedom of expression."

Gordon H Bennett, this is beyond satire. And it hasn't finished yet. The statement goes on: "At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information." Eh? I'm just going to read that back again. Extraordinary. The statement concludes: "We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age."

I'm generally pro-American, having a great love of the country. And, while I realise that its backwoods are full of psychopaths whose dumbness is almost unfathomable, all the citizens I've met from across the pond have been models of politeness and decency.

But this really is turning me, at least, against its establishment. I haven't been on a protest march for decades but I am stirred now and would happily join any taking place against this sort of thing, as long as they are not more than half an hour from the house and there are decent lavatorial facilities.

Any newspaper would have killed for many of these documents. And don't forget it is newspapers that are publishing the documents and not the internet as such.

It's all very exciting and, while I believe that - when it comes to politics in particular - you're generally safer with boredom, important issues are at stake here.

We should all stand up to be counted.

Consider me, therefore, upright and saluting WikiLeaks.

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