Australian media figures defend Wikileaks

Issue 

The following introduction and open letter are reprinted from www.walkleys.com.

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Australia’s most senior media professionals have written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to express their support for WikiLeaks.

The letter was initiated by the Walkley Foundation and signed by the ten members of the Walkley Advisory Board, as well as editors of major Australian newspapers and news websites and the news directors of the country’s three commercial TV networks and two public broadcasters.

You can also read statements made earlier this month by the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance and the International Federation of Journalists concerning WikiLeaks here.

Dear Prime Minister,

STATEMENT FROM AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER EDITORS, TELEVISION AND RADIO DIRECTORS AND ONLINE MEDIA EDITORS

The leaking of 250,000 confidential American diplomatic cables is the most astonishing leak of official information in recent history, and its full implications are yet to emerge. But some things are clear. In essence, WikiLeaks, an organisation that aims to expose official secrets, is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret.

In this case, WikiLeaks, founded by Australian Julian Assange, worked with five major newspapers around the world, which published and analysed the embassy cables. Diplomatic correspondence relating to Australia has begun to be published here.

The volume of the leaks is unprecedented, yet the leaking and publication of diplomatic correspondence is not new. We, as editors and news directors of major media organisations, believe the reaction of the US and Australian governments to date has been deeply troubling. We will strongly resist any attempts to make the publication of these or similar documents illegal. Any such action would impact not only on WikiLeaks, but every media organisation in the world that aims to inform the public about decisions made on their behalf. WikiLeaks, just four years old, is part of the media and deserves our support.

Already, the chairman of the US Senate homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, is suggesting The New York Times should face investigation for publishing some of the documents. The newspaper told its readers that it had ‘‘taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.’’ Such an approach is responsible — we do not support the publication of material that threatens national security or anything which would put individual lives in danger. Those judgements are never easy, but there has been no evidence to date that the WikiLeaks material has done either.

There is no evidence, either, that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have broken any Australian law. The Australian government is investigating whether Mr Assange has committed an offence, and the Prime Minister has condemned WikiLeaks’ actions as ‘‘illegal’’. So far, it has been able to point to no Australian law that has been breached.

To prosecute a media organisation for publishing a leak would be unprecedented in the US, breaching the First Amendment protecting a free press. In Australia, it would seriously curtail Australian media organisations reporting on subjects the government decides are against its interests.

WikiLeaks has no doubt made errors. But many of its revelations have been significant. It has given citizens an insight into US thinking about some of the most complex foreign policy issues of our age, including North Korea, Iran and China.

It is the media’s duty to responsibly report such material if it comes into their possession. To aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to prosecute those who publish official leaks, and to pressure companies to cease doing commercial business with WikiLeaks, is a serious threat to democracy, which relies on a free and fearless press.

Yours faithfully

Clinton Maynard, news director, 2UE

David Penberthy, editor-in-chief, news.com.au

Eric Beecher, chairman, Crikey, Smart Company, Business Spectator, The Eureka Report

Gay Alcorn, editor, The Sunday Age

Garry Bailey, editor, The Mercury (Hobart)

Garry Linnell, editor, The Daily Telegraph

Ian Ferguson, director of news and programs, Sky News Australia/New Zealand

Jim Carroll, network director of news and public affairs, Ten Network

Julian Ricci, editor, Northern Territory News

Kate Torney, director of news, ABC

Mark Calvert, director of news and current affairs, Nine Network

Melvin Mansell, editor, The Advertiser (Adelaide)

Megan Lloyd, editor, Sunday Mail (Adelaide)

Michael Crutcher, editor, The Courier Mail,

Mike van Niekerk, editor in chief, Fairfax online

Paul Cutler, news director, SBS

Paul Ramadge, editor-in-chief, The Age

Peter Fray, editor-in-chief, The Sydney Morning Herald

Peter Meakin, director of news and public affairs, Seven Network

Rick Feneley, editor, The Sun-Herald

Rob Curtain, news director, 3AW

Rod Quinn, editor, The Canberra Times

Sam Weir, editor, The Sunday Times

Scott Thompson, The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

Simon Pristel, editor, Herald Sun

Tory Maguire, editor, The Punch

Walkley Advisory Board

Gay Alcorn

Mike Carlton

Helen Dalley

John Donegan

Peter Meakin

Laurie Oakes

Jeni O'Dowd

Alan Kennedy

Malcolm Schmidtke

Fenella Souter

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