Hard News by Russell Brown

53

Out of the Box

I am not one of those people who regards Wikileaks as an unalloyed good. As Clay Johnson of InfoVegan noted last week, "a real free press cannot be formed around a cult of personality," yet that's what Wikileaks founder Julian Assange sometimes appears to be doing. His correspondence with critics – and rivals in the information game – can be pretty bizarre.

Assange has, in the past, needlessly breached the privacy of individuals, and I think he let himself be co-opted into someone else's agenda when he helped distribute the so-called Climategate emails.

But the huge file-dump he has dubbed The Kabul War Diary is impossible to ignore. The 75,000 leak US military reports, covering the period from the beginning of 2004 to the end of 2009 depicts the kind of war we might have suspected was taking place in Afghanistan, but were rarely told about.

As Wikileaks puts it:

This archive shows the vast range of small tragedies that are almost never reported by the press but which account for the overwhelming majority of deaths and injuries.

I'm also somewhat reassured by Assange's decision to hold back stuff that is likely to get people killed:

We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.

And by the fact that in what appears to be a change of policy he has gone in the first instance to three "media partners" – that is, newspapers in a position to make an informed assessment of the material that Assange has been leaked:

Der Spiegel

The Guardian

The New York Times

The Guardian is liveblogging discoveries amongst the files and responses to the news. Its coverage is being led by one of Britain's best investigative journalists, David Leigh, who offers a video tutorial in how to use his paper's coverage.

And the New York Times has focused on evidence of Pakistani forces actively aiding the Taliban.

This huge leak is already being compared to the Pentagon Papers, by people who should know. The White House is attacking the messenger. It's pretty much all they could do.

There remains the distinct possibility that lives could be lost as a result of all this, as Assange and his source have acknowledged by witholding such a large chunk of material on security grounds. It might also be argued that it will save more lives in the long run. But it's out of the box. Such is the age in which we live.

UPDATE: No Right Turn has a grep of New Zealand mentions in the files

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On a far humbler level, Media7 this week talks to TV writer Rachel Lang about her career, and latest show, This is Not My Life, which begins this week, and sizes up local offerings for the iPad, with the herald's Jeremy Rees, North & South editor Virgina Larson, and go-to gadget guy Ben Gracewood. If you'd like to join us for tomorrow's recording, come to the Victoria St entrance of TVNZ from 5pm (and before 5.40).

Meanwhile, here's last week's lively little show, and the 10 minutes of internet-only "Extra Time" with the panel.

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