How Monopoly Media Abets the Persecutors of Assange

On 11 April 2019 Julian Assange was carried by UK police from the sovereign territory of Ecuador’s London embassy. He was then conveyed to Westminster magistrates court, which convicted him of absconding within fifteen minutes.

The event was captured in iconic images displaying his untrimmed beard, which is significant for two overlooked reasons. One is that visual documentation would be lacking if not for the presence of vigilant supporters. The other is that Ecuador progressively deprived their asylee of everything he needed, including shaving equipment cancelled months before the last vestige of asylum.

Disinformation and Machination

A Newsweek headline from 2018 still reads ‘Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Tells Russia-Aligned Media the FBI Is Spying on Him’. But he only addressed a court in Ecuador. Telesur was among those covering his testimony, yet simply mentioned “a video conference” without making the legal context explicit. As this outlet is known for resisting US narrative, it may be unsurprising that Newsweek conjured an exclusive release from Assange to enemy propagandists.

He said Ecuador was engaging in espionage against him, relaying data to the US and precipitating a health crisis to remove him from the embassy by way of death or a medical excuse for handing him over to the UK. Following suit with Newsweek, most coverage of this was dismissive and misleading.

The Guardian also persists with a slanderous report that Assange met with Paul Manafort, Trump’s later campaign chairman. The article alleges three meetings on different days and mentions clothing details like “sandy-coloured chinos” as if to notify police. Yet none of the 24/7 security footage emerged to reveal Manafort’s person or pants, meticulous records are devoid of him and the consul in the embassy at the time, Fidel Navarez, specifically debunks the story. Originally on the byline was a reporter previously convicted by Ecuador of a false and defamatory claim, Fernando Villavicencio, whom it also accused — with metadata evidence — of fabricating a document regarding their oil drilling.

Since its initial, perception-conditioning splash, the media has backpedalled from the article. The Guardian itself was no exception to this, despite leaving it online after an edit with some hedging terms. Perhaps that was an effort to save face, though it only seemed to increase ignominy.

Manafort nonetheless had business with Ecuador and not in London. He went to the equatorial nation to meet its newly elected President, Lenin Moreno and it was widely reported that they discussed debt relief, in exchange for US possession of Assange, like trading oil or bananas.

Changes brought by Moreno include removing Assange from their London embassy, beginning with harsh measures like cutting his internet, restricting visitors and issuing a list of tripwire demands. The latter were part of a document which threatened the end of his asylum, in terms replete with defamatory insinuations. Such were predictably seized upon by the media as warranting claims that happened to be false, about medical bills and his cat among other things.

Assange responded to Ecuador with a lawsuit occasioning the testimony noted above. This was referred to its Constitutional Court, which had all judges replaced under Moreno after being shut down for the relevant months.

Lawyers accordingly drew Ecuador’s neglect of his asylum to the attention of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, which emphasised that it must not be terminated. The IACH stopped short of issuing a formal precautionary measure on this point, to its embarrassment, as within a month Ecuador invited British police to carry Assange away.

The reason they violated due process in terminating asylum is simply that there was no way to do it legally. Yet as always, the press was ready to ignore such technicalities and portray the eviction in terms of smears. Moreno even obliged them with lurid claims about faeces on walls. The evidence which inspired this appears to be one image capturing a discoloration on the bathroom light switch. Perhaps something was then imagined in relation to having deprived Assange of toiletries.

Eve of the Deed

Assange’s kidnapping correlated with publication of the fact that he had been spied on in the embassy. Wikileaks actually held a press conference which broke that news one day prior to him being hauled away.

They mentioned at the time that sensitive communication with his legal counsel was among data suspected of having been routed to the US. Testimony given by former security contractors working at the embassy subsequently confirmed that arrangement.

Privileged legal defence — against reprisals for publishing leaked evidence of war crimes — had been exfiltrated for US prosecutors.

Yet questions from the press at this meeting were loaded to imply an equivalence of these two very different instances of exposure, as if Wikileaks must concede some pivotal irony which serves it right.

Given the specific relevance of this attitude to state lawlessness, civil and military, it is seems hard to conceive of a more sinister fallacy propagated on behalf of either one.

Yet it was seriously invoked by the press, which thereby turned its critical spotlight away from abusers of power — to abet them and betray all else — by directing it against a publisher for informing the public of such abuses.

To be sure, they were relentless in this line of “questioning” and would not yield an inch to being disabused of their errors by thoroughly cogent answers.

Instead of giving the story its due at the time, they worked to trivialise it. Nor did they do anything else to stop bragging conspirators abducting him on the next day, as might have been the case if they had made serious enquiries and prompted a defensive position.

It accordingly takes ignorance to imagine the press as innocent in this grisly bit of history. Indeed, if it had not fostered the conditions for Assange’s vilification and kidnapping, none of his decade of documented torture would have transpired as it did.

The Role of the Media

What should all this mean to journalists who reflect on a publisher being extradited?

It seems the high calling of the press has been answered with ultimate self-sacrifice, as they zealously worked for this very precedent to be set.

Assange was characterised as bringing all troubles on himself. Writers apparently wondered why he refused to open his eyes to their liberating truths, when he could have just walked out the embassy door to be burnt at the stake, as the initial offering to flames they prepared for themselves.

Whether this fire be lit for revelations of DNC abuses or US war crimes appears of no concern to many of them. It seems everything is to be torched in their view, including the essence of Western freedom, justice and accuracy, so long as the primary object is to punish or topple somebody cast as an enemy of such values.

Assange was “an accused rapist,” as opposed to presumed innocent of rape accusations made by certain prosecutors, lawyers and other defamers in contradiction of statements from the listed complainant. He also published authentic information that reflected poorly on a presidential candidate whom many considered the lesser evil.

So never mind the spirit of international law, its plainly written covenants or their legally binding ratification by countries such as the US, UK, Ecuador and Australia, because Assange looked ripe for decomposition under the pile of refuse dumped on him.

Thanks to moral blinkers and conflicts of interest, establishment media and the intellectual milieu it draws upon can err grotesquely. This toxic culture is the crux of the everything to do with the struggle of Wikileaks. The necessity to overcome it is what gave birth the project. Then, when it came of age, an alliance was made, which ended in treachery on par with murder.

Along with profound psychological impacts listed by an eminent psychiatrist in court, Assange’s health has been decimated to the extent of losing 10 lean kilos. In his shoes a less exceptionally resilient person would probably dead by now, yet nothing is done to stop a ratcheting up of his hardship. Repeated calls from organised doctors and lawyers to get him to an adequate hospital have been increasingly ignored by the media, despite the fact that he is only in prison on remand and for publishing what another country is rightly embarrassed by.

This is plainly how the world dysfunctions and why little else can presently improve. Like most of what it professes to hold to account, journalism is increasingly a racket.

Dr. Simon Floth is an Australian philosopher who has lectured at UNE and is currently researching on religion. He was a volunteer with WikiLeaks from 2007-2009. Read other articles by Simon.