At a public debate on June 16, Icelandic journalist and WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson said WikiLeaks has strengthened democracy and revealed wrongdoings. Most of the 600-strong crowd said they agreed.
At the end of this year’s second IQ² debate, 58.2% of the audience voted for the proposition: “WikiLeaks is a force for good”. Just 32.2% said they disagreed while 8.8% were undecided.
The debate did sway some people, however. Polled before the debate, only 6.3% of attendees said they disagreed and 30.7% said they were undecided.
Hrafnsson said: “WikiLeaks represents an idea — that people have a right to know.”
He pointed to the impact WikiLeaks has had exposing corruption, fraud and human rights abuses in countries such as Iceland, Tunisia, Kenya, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“None of [the people in these countries] need to be convinced that WikiLeaks is a force for good,” he said.
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans argued WikiLeaks had a bad impact. He said he was against attempts to “persecute or prosecute” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but still said Assange was an “anarchically-minded autocrat”.
Evans also said leaks of secret government information “won’t contribute to better government” but would “inhibit internal communication within government” and lead to worse government decision-making.
Suelette Dreyfus, co-author with Assange of the book Underground, responded that WikiLeaks “had challenged the powerful and faced resistance”.
She said “WikiLeaks has made [other] journalists braver”.
“We need WikiLeaks and a free media,” she said. “Truth and power — WikiLeaks brings both of these things to us, to the people.”
University of Sydney academic and former Australian journalist Tom Switzer countered that “WikiLeaks and Assange are irresponsible mischief-makers”.
He said WikiLeaks’ exposures of state secrets threatened the “integrity of government and high-level decision making”.
He also accused WikiLeaks of hypocrisy. Switzer said WikiLeaks claims to stand for transparency but it is a “repressive organisation” that “silences internal dissent”.
Switzer said the mainstream “media is healthy, we don’t need WikiLeaks”. Despite this, he also admitted that his “outrage at WikiLeaks is only matched by my enthusiasm at reading it”.
Sydney Peace Foundation director Stuart Rees replied that WikiLeaks deserves support because citizens “have a right to know what powerful people do in our name”.
Rees paid tribute to WikiLeaks and Assange: “WikiLeaks has made enormous and essential contributions to human rights principles, including the important one of free speech.”
By contrast, the Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove likened WikiLeaks to poker machines: both may be popular with some people, but neither should be described as a force for good.
He said WikiLeaks was based on an “incoherent and dangerous rationale” and “is a deeply flawed organisation with a deeply flawed leader”.
Fullilove also said WikiLeaks was not transparent and asked: “How do I hold WikiLeaks accountable?”
In discussion, most of the comments from audience members were supportive of WikiLeaks.
One person said: “This debate is not about Assange or his character. Don’t attack the messenger.”
Another said: “If politicians were doing their job, maybe we wouldn’t need WikiLeaks.”
A third person said: “If Assange is an anarchist, then perhaps these governments are tyrants.”
[The next IQ² debate will take place on July 26 on the topic, “If we keep populating we perish”. Visit http://iq2oz.com/ ]