The case of Julian Assange is an important one regarding press freedom. Apart from fighting for the economic demands of workers, the Trade Union Left Forum and various trade unions engaged in a political struggle in organising a day of action in support of Assange on 23 October throughout Ireland.
Marx wrote that “the ideas of the ruling class in every epoch are the ruling ideas.” But how are these ideas ingrained? There are four main agents that make people succumb to power and prevent questioning it, namely religion, educational institutions, family, and the media.
Especially in this period, when information is power, those who want to retain power want to control information. This is done by the media. The corporatisation of the mass media has turned journalism from being a watchdog of democracy into a lapdog of power. People’s opinions are fabricated in accordance with the information they are subjected to, and so it is the same people who control the media who control the minds.
Edward Snowden has shown how the privacy of US citizens is compromised when the state uses surveillance methods to snoop on its own people, in the name of national security. When capitalism uses new methods of surveillance to control dissent it needs journalism of a new kind to expose the oppressor. The likes of Assange use those new methods of exposing the lies the US government employed to justify the bombing on innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chelsea Manning was an intelligence analyst who had access to classified information, which she leaked to Wikileaks. She disclosed materials about the bombing of Baghdad in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2009, and famously the videos of US soldiers shooting innocent civilians and celebrating the murder. She was sentenced to thirty-five years’ imprisonment, which was later commuted to seven years. She was later jailed again for contempt, and fined for refusing to testify against Julian Assange.
What did the mainstream media do in Julian Assange’s case? They were pitiful in their response. They were not willing to include Assange as a journalist, or accept his methods as journalism. Assange in fact brought out more truth than any journalist has ever done in the history of journalism.
The mainstream media did not publish Chelsea Manning’s videos of the US army celebrating the mass murder of innocent people in Iraq: it was Wikileaks that published it. If journalism is telling the truth, exposing lies, and questioning power, then what Assange did was journalism of the highest quality. If the mainstream media had done what Julian Assange did, many wars would have been avoided.
The mainstream media, which investigated Russia’s influencing of US elections, never investigated how many elections the United States influences abroad when there is scope for an anti-imperial party to win an election. “True” journalism never reports weapons of mass destruction that US hegemony uses, and never questioned imperialism when it failed to discover the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for which it created the war.
What threat the United States faces so as to have eight hundred bases around the world, or why the war budget of the United States exceeds the military budget of the next ten countries put together, is never questioned by “true” journalists. In fact they justify it at a time when millions died because of a lack of medical facilities as a result of covid-19 in the United States. We can be 100 per cent sure that the new cold war against China won’t be questioned either.
In a society that is divided into classes, the media are also class-oriented and serve the class they represent. With the accumulation of wealth at one pole through monopoly, economic power translates into political power; and to justify the political decisions, media propaganda becomes inevitable for manufacturingconsent.
During the Cold War period trade union leaders, socialists, communists and anarchists were all branded by McCarthyism as terrorists and spies for the Soviet Union. The media were at the centre of the propaganda to create a fear psychosis among people to prevent discussion about communism and alternative forms of organising society.
We live in a post-truth era, which means that objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. In this era, revealing the facts in itself is a revolutionary act. Julian Assange is a person who spoke the truth, and that too against power, and that too against the most powerful state.
What Julian Assange did was to question the lies the establishment propagated to convince people to accept their wrong political decisions. If that isn’t journalism, then what is?