2011-01-12 Frontline Club: WikiLeaks: Holding a mirror up to journalism?

Last night in London the Frontline Club presented its first "On the Media" event of 2011, hosted by the club's founder, Vaughan Smith. The topic was WikiLeaks and its relationship with and impact on conventional journalism.

The panel was chaired by Richard Gizbert, presenter of The Listening Post on Al Jazeera English. Panel members were:

Ian Katz, deputy editor of the Guardian
David Aaronovitch, author and columnist for the Times (London)
Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism
Mark Stephens, media lawyer and attorney for Julian Assange

Video and text summary of the discussion

Reflections from Dominique Jackson of Babel @ Bedlam, who was present at the event.

Wikileaks, pattern recognition, and information overload

An emergent theme in this Frontline Club / BBC College of Journalism discussion is the paradox of pattern recognition vs. information overload.

This goes way beyond Wikileaks - it's actually the core challenge of our era, as Humankind's fragmented worldview creates a gigantic global information blockage which blinds us to the fact that we already have most of the information, technology and resources to develop a sustainable civilisation - but are unable to see for ourselves what we can do to make a difference.

Consideration of this paradox leads to the realisation that individual common sense is now the greatest untapped resource in the world.

For more on this see http://www.global-vision.org/philosophy/

Fascinating discussion,

Fascinating discussion, mostly intelligent, although there are some interesting collapses of logic or principle.

Not to pick on him especially, but I think it is pretty nervy of Ian Katz to claim -- twice -- that his paper's collaborators, Assange/WikiLeaks, "became the story" and that that was a problem for the Guardian, given that not becoming part of the story yourself is a basic rule of conventional journalism.

Methinks that Guardian journos may be in a bit of a state of denial about themselves on this score. After Nick Davies' articles in the Guardian and at HuffPo, the odd Vanity Fair article, and the current scandal over the Tsvangirai cable, there's no question that Guardian journalists have themselves become part of the story, and that some of those subplots have yet to play out.

It's regrettable as well that journalists like Katz and Aaronovitch don't seem to grasp basic principles of democracy that would help them to think through distinctions among different kinds of leaks.

Note also the curious exchange, late in the discussion, between Stephens and Katz over a possible deal between the Guardian and Daniel Domscheit-Berg/OpenLeaks.

Assange becoming the story

While Julian Assange could probably not have avoided becoming "the story", he has certainly taken every opportunity to promote himself. Most recently he has again be going on about his so-called insurance file, a truly woefully narcissitic concept, which if taken to its logical extreme means he intends to sit on some explosive data that someone is going to get many years in prison for leaking to wikileaks. Julian Assange has refused every opportunity to hide behind the collective and state that wikileaks decisions to release material are a collective decision, in line with guidelines of transparency and made by wikileaks as an organisation. However, he seems to reveal in the attention, conveniently overlooking the fact that the real risks are run by the leakers.

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