My name is Andrew Fowler I’m a reporter for ‘4 Corners’ and also ‘Foreign Correspondent’ ABC Television and also here tonight I’m speaking as an author of a book, I need to stress that fact that I’m speaking as an author of a book [mic trouble] that would never happen at the ABC I assure you…there you go, can you hear that?…good…good. I’ll start again, my name is Andrew Fowler I’m s reporter on ‘4 Corners’ and ‘Foreign Correspondent’ but I’m here tonight speaking as the author of a book called ‘The Most Dangerous Man in the World’, it the story of Julian Assange in the early day and development of WikiLeaks. I need to say that because of the issues I’m raising tonight about journalism. Now, I met Daniel Ellsberg in the United States when I was writing the book and he said to me that he felt Assange was fearless and he had no idea how he could do what he was doing and not feel fear. And he asked me how is this possible how could he do this, how could he take on the establishment, the US establishment and do what he was doing and there was no answer except that he obviously shows great courage.
Now Assange has to have courage, he has to be courageous because the people that he is taking on, that he has taken on have been some of the most powerful and some of the most disingenuous people you could possibly wish to meet. And many of those people I’m here to tell you unfortunately were journalist, one of them was the editor of the New York Times, his name’s Bill Keller, he’s not the editor any more but he was at the time. Now when Assange shared his ‘Cablegate’ secrets with the New York Times, he gave them to them ahh…and particularly the Afghan War Logs, you may remember, in gave in the War Logs many great stories that would make the New York Times look good and a lot of credibility in the industry and peers. When the Justice Department cam looking for the people that had given them that information to the New York Times, the New York Times said we got it from somebody that wasn’t a journalist, it was a source and that source was WikiLeaks. Now the importance of this information that I’m telling you about is that if you are viewed as an American journalist are given material, you are covered by a certain extent by the First Amendment, the Amendment that guarantees freedom of speech. Mind you if you are a source, then the rules are different but to add a crueler touch to that Keller also said that Assange was anti-American. And that put him in even greater danger because the law says that if you are against the interests of the United States and you’re not a journalist but a source then the Espionage Act of 1917 could be imposed on you and that carries the death penalty.
So there are grave issues raised here where Assange was dealt a cruel blow by one of my own, members of the profession that I represent as a journalist and for that I am, I was deeply troubled at the time and I still am. When you look at the way that the Washington Post behaved at the time, there’s another issue raised here which is similar an allied issue I’m sure you all here know, you’ve all seen many, many times over, probably seen too many times for your own good the Collateral Murder video. Now, in that you see [clears throat] excuse me, in that you see, particularly in the last part of it you see…you see the…the Apache Helicopter come round the back of a building and they open up on the Reuters employee by…being carried to a truck umm and that is, it has been described as a War Crime by, I suppose I’m not legally capable of saying that’s what is was, but that is what it has be described as, as a War Crime. Then you may not know this but the Washington Post had a Reporter who had either seen that material or had had access to it … the gun ship transcripts and knew what went on, on that day. He didn’t publish the story he wrote a book, the New York arh…the Washington Post published the story but didn’t prosecute him any further, didn’t take it any further just left it at these guys were shot they were insurgents in the Square and umm they died…and these people where coming to obviously aid them and they carried on the fight and they were blown away as well. This is the Washington Post … this is the Washington Post, this is the Washington Post, the greatest newspaper of my, of my youth, my youth…the paper that I admired so much, the paper that produced Watergate, the paper that made everybody want to be a Journalist, and here it was failing with its fundamental duty. And I think that when you put those two issues together now they happen to be American newspapers right so… this is not a problem that is unfortunately quarantined to the United States, what we see is the controlling of information by Governments and Governments will do all they can to control information. They do it by duchessing you, they do it by intimidating you, they do it by controlling your purse strings, they do that as well.
So, they’ll do anything they can, and what we got here was an example of how Bill Keller was, he’s done this thing for the Washington Post and he didn’t write the story, I’ve told you about it, he was imbedded with the Apache Helicopter crew, then Bill Keller was imbedded with the White House. Now, what we saw, what we’ve seen is that the Administration of particularly the United States, newspapers there going to the White House, they go to the CIA, they go to the Pentagon and they shared the information they got and check it to see whether or not it will cause too many problems. Now, Julian Assange has told me and I’m sure he’s said publicly many times he said what did you do, why would you go to the people that committed a crime or created the problem and give them the tip off, why would you do that? You go to them for a response at the end, as we do as journalist we go and get a response y don’t just published material with their spin involved in it. Now the significance of what happened in that particular event is that what we saw was that they take that the containment of information by Government and what you saw with Cablegate, what you saw with WikiLeaks and why WikiLeaks is so important to journalism is that it broke out of the containment vessel. Because the Governments, this particular example of the United States Government was so ahem…excuse me…the United States was so successful in containing information, it created, it created a situation that was only solvable by a massive explosion.
Before Governments were so successful at holding their secrets, before they managed or were so successful rather about information that would leak out, there would be a pressure valve if you like, there would be a thing that would irk somebody…it would be an Andrew Wilkie moment, you know, you could really have enough evidence of leaked material or in Wilkie’s come out and say it’s wrong. That kind of pressure would, would release the valve. In this case, because the Americans have been so successful at building this, this containment system, what happened was the side blew out of it and WikiLeaks got the material, and that material, obviously, changed the way we think about just about anything and you can go through WikiLeaks right now and find you’ve got your iphone on you go in, you do a search, and you can search any single thing you want and you’ll find information that will help you understand the contemporary world, to understand the importance of WikiLeaks is to understand that at the moment as Journalists we use it every single day. I used it in the last story I did for 4 Corners, I used it when I accessed information which was mentioned earlier about Mark Arbib and about the other people that were bragging that they were going to bring on the challenge of Rudd earlier. This stuff is contained on WikiLeaks but that’s an encouraging event, historians will look and build a different, a parallel, a more accurate picture of history for the last ten years looking at that information. So we have this, this information explosion bursting out, we know why we didn’t have it before because it was so..so much contained. But the question is how did WikiLeaks manage to operate that system? Why did it emerge in the way that it did? I think it’s important to understand that a guy Nick Davies who works for the Guardian although he’s a free lancer, so he’s a free lance person, he’s outside the main stream. He’s not captured in the way the rest of them are, he’s roams around the perimeter fence, he’s like Julian Assange, they’re outside the perimeter fence, it’s where journalists should live their lives, on the outside of the perimeter fence. That’s what these guys are doing and that’s what, that’s why they are different from the people caught up in the middle, in the safe centre. They go, they go to the lines and talk to people that have been thrown out to the perimeter because those in the centre are too happy, too safe those that come and talk to me they’re the people that tell me what’s going on in the bad lands and the decision making process.
Now Assange and Nick Davies have something in common, what they have in common is they are both, both outsiders and when they work together they produce this extraordinary, never ending roller coaster of exposes in the Guardian Newspaper, the Washington Post and La Monde. Now they’ve had a falling out and I mean, you know, it’s a bit like John and Paul, I mean this is, this happens all the time people have fallings out, but when they work together at that time, they produced the most amazing journalism I’ve ever seen. I don’t think we will ever see journalism better than the way it was practiced when WikiLeaks worked with the mainstream media, the awful, ghastly mainstream media. They did a fantastic job, the four I focused on before the Washington Post and the New York Times, to give you an illustration of how they changed the scene, how WikiLeaks changed the scene. And that was why it was so important, that’s why WikiLeaks is the single most important journalistic change I think that any of us will ever see in our lifetimes. When you look closer to home, what are we to doing as journalists, what are we doing as Journalists to support WikiLeaks, well the Media Alliance which is the Journalist’s Union drew up a document which was signed by all the major news organistations, with the exception of one, only one organisation didn’t sign this document, calling for support for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, arh…you can’t possibly suggest that it might be Rupert Murdoch….of course yeah, it was Rupert Murdoch. That’s the, look…you know the Murdoch been…there are problems with Murdoch media right now and there have been problems, but some of the best journalists do work for Murdoch and we wouldn’t have known about Haneef, we wouldn’t have known about the kids overboard if it hadn’t been for Murdoch and Cameron Stuart stunts and people like that but this, that was the example so what’ll we do, what’ll we do as journalists to support this particular thing which is so important to us? Well, I think it will determine who we are as journalists and how much we’ve changed and how well we do our job in the future. When push comes to shove and if the United States does manage to wrestle or to get Julian Assange, obviously, if he is sent to Sweden, if he is get to Sweden, to the United States in that moment of transition, before it happens, what we do as journalists will be very, very important, and all the letters we sign, including the ABC, including Fairfax and lesser groups to the Government and say we need to support this.
We will need to make a clear and unequivocal statement that you do not do this, not only to an Australian citizen, but to an Australian Journalist because you’re next, we are next….we are next. Every journalist needs to understand that Assange first, and you just saw the usual story; first of all the Jews, then the blacks and then the gays, well, he didn’t say the Journalist but that’s, that’s what it will be and I think we need to make a statement of unequivocal support, a political statement of support for Assange. Again we need to do that, because if he goes, we all go. How far the United States reach can go around the World is truly terrifying at the moment if it is possible to take an Australian citizen, to temporarily surrender an Australian Journalist into he arms of a Country where people call for his summary execution and described him as a high tech terrorist and go unchallenged and uninvestigated themselves. That’s a rather sort of grim picture I’m afraid I painted of my job and what I do but what I’m saying to you is that WikiLeaks has made a difference to us as Journalists and for that we are eternally grateful. Thanks very much.
Transcript of Newcastle Forum by Gail