When it comes to comparing the cases of two publishers of secret information — WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange and billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch — the hypocrisy from politicians and media is huge.
The key difference between the two is obvious — one seeks to challenge the establishment, the other exerts huge control over it.
Papers run by the Murdoch-owned News International — the British arm of his media empire — were caught stealing personal information from hundreds of people as well as engaging in widespread police bribery.
Their motivation was purely cynical: to produce trashy, sensationalised stories to make money.
The people targeted included victims of crimes and their relatives, as well as celebrities and politicians.
Murdoch’s punishment for this, so far, has been for the British government — under huge public pressure — to block his bid to take over even more of the media for now.
British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg asked Murdoch to “reconsider” his multi-billion pound bid to take over British Sky Broadcasting, saying it would be the “decent and sensible thing” to do, DailyRecord.co.uk said on July 12.
The bid was withdrawn on July 13 shortly before parliament was due to vote for a motion put by opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband urging Murdoch drop the offer.
Murdoch has already closed News of the World — the tabloid at the centre of the scandal — and will likely have to sacrifice a few editors to satisfy public outrage.
But given his obscene wealth and power to make or break politicians, Murdoch’s empire will use its enormous resources to try to isolate the scandal and come out with the empire more or less intact.
Independent journalist Antony Loewenstein told Al Jazeera on July 8: “Clearly the problem is not so much the staff that worked for the paper, although clearly some staff transgressed and broke laws. The issue is more the direction the newspaper organisation has from the top, from Murdoch down.”
Murdoch is renowned for using his media empire to bully and pressure politicians and governments. This has led pro-corporate politicians all over the world to ingratiate themselves to Murdoch.
Loewenstein told Al Jazeera: “What you’ve seen over the last two or three decades in Australia [from] both sides of politics, a bipartisan agreement that Murdoch should have more and more power, to the point now where there is virtually no transparency between his empire and the political elites.”
The treatment of Assange differs dramatically.
WikiLeaks received the harshest criticism from politicians and the media for publishing US government secrets.
Unlike Murdoch’s, WikiLeaks’ motivation was admirable: to expose lies and human rights abuses, and to make powerful people accountable for the decisions they make behind closed doors.
Unlike NOTW, WikiLeaks stole nothing: the secret US cables it published were given to it by an anonymous source, alleged to be US soldier Bradley Manning.
This did not stop Assange being branded a “hi-tech terrorist” by US vice president Joe Biden, and some leading politicians and commentators called for him to be executed.
Assange is an Australian citizen, but this did not prevent the Australian government from alleging WikiLeaks had committed crimes and initiate a criminal investigation into it — which found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Murdoch’s media outlets all over the world led the charge in condemning WikiLeaks, hypocritically moralising about a government’s “right” to secrecy.
While defending a government’s right to keep secrets about its activities from its citizens, Murdoch’s leading tabloid violated this right for many ordinary citizens — including grieving families.
Assange is under home arrest in London, fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden over sexual abuse allegations — despite the fact he is yet to be charged with any crime.
The unprecedented circumstances of the extradition attempt have led many to believe the legal action is politically motivated.
Assange appeared in a London court over July 12 and 13 to appeal his extradition to Sweden. His defence lawyers said that since Assange is wanted only for questioning, the extradition warrant was “disproportionate” as there were other means for Swedish investigators to question him.
The ruling was deferred to an unspecified date.
Regardless of Assange’s innocence or guilt, it is clear the case has been hijacked by those who wish to curb his political activity.
The US government has relentlessly pursued WikiLeaks and its supporters in its quest to criminalise the media organisation under espionage laws.
For months, a grand jury in the US has been trying to find evidence of a connection between Assange and Manning in an effort to charge them with espionage.
WikiLeaks has also faced attacks from the corporate world. A financial embargo from financial companies Visa, Mastercard and Paypal has hampered WikiLeaks’ ability to receive donations.
Visa again suspended payments on July 9 after accidentally re-activating WikiLeaks’ account, TheInquirer.net said on July 12.
A plot by internet security firms to bring down WikiLeaks and its supporters — allegedly at the behest of the Bank of America — was also uncovered in February.
The double standards are blatant: the rich and powerful commit crimes with impunity, those who challenge them face persecution.