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The world is changing

The world is changing. Can you feel it?

A month ago, I didn’t give a hoot about Wikileaks. It didn’t interest me at all. Nor did journalist Assange, one of its founders and operators. I couldn’t have cared less about them. Wikileaks was just one more news publication in an ocean of news publications, all of which periodically ran with stories about this or that leaked document.

And then the US government freaked out. As well they might, since they screwed up and government officials leaked an unprecedented number of documents that they were really not supposed to.

But that wasn’t what the government freaked out about. They focused the blame on Wikileaks and on Assange – and apparently they felt safe doing so, because they weren’t a part of one of the huge news organisations who are, even now, going through those leaked documents, discovering and publishing all of the juicy bits for billions to read in newspapers and see on television; and who have, more importantly, armies of very well paid lawyers who know that by US law and legal precedent, the publisher is not liable for information that is freely leaked to them.

A month ago, you may never have heard of Assange, and Wikileaks was probably a Web-site you’d never visited. You may still have never visited there – you hardly need to, as almost every news agency in the world is publishing the really interesting stuff that they found there so that you don’t have to.

But suddenly, most of you care about this; about Assange, about Wikileaks, about the information that is being published, and about the steps being taken against all of it.

Newspapers are running informal polls, and as many as 9 out of 10 respondents suddenly care about Assange, and feel that what is happening to him is wrong, that the US government (which is reported to have already tried and convicted Assange, under seal) has violated its laws and constitution and that it is simply persecuting Assange and Wikileaks to distract from its own security failures.

World leaders – even those who were embarrassed by documents that were leaked to Wikileaks are lining up to support Assange and Wikileaks. Assange is presently receiving nominations for Australian of the Year.

While a newer and more novel form than traditional media, Assange and Wikileaks are the press – as much as any newspaper – and a lot of people feel that the US Government lacks the authority to arrest a member of the press because he published something that they don’t like.

At the same time, the big news empires are troubled, having tightened their belts to the point of wasp-waistedness, and the face of news and journalism continues to change. An increasing percentage of it has become focused on smaller operational units, with groups of journalists gathering together into small news businesses – and it looks like Wikileaks won’t be the only organisation of its type on the block in the near future – while everyone tries to figure out the changing face of the journalistic landscape.

And those smaller outfits are increasingly easy targets and scapegoats, in defiance of our established traditions of press freedoms and journalistic expression. We – as individuals, and as societies – will ultimately be responsible for determining the roles, limits, rights and responsibilities of journalistic enterprise in its new forms and structures, as our predecessors were for its traditional forms and structures. Are we truly up to that task?

It’s possible that Assange and Wikileaks now embody a sudden tipping point, both in the media and in government; a change in the landscapes of both, whose outcome is fundamentally uncertain, but will certainly affect us all.

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Categories: Culture, Media, Opinion.

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