Assange ruling: a victory for press freedom?

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is not to be extradited to the US, a London court decided on Monday. The judge based her ruling on concerns that the 49-year-old could commit suicide if convicted of espionage in the US. The debate in Europe's media focuses on the question of whether Assange's actions were covered by press freedom.

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Népszava (HU) /

Dubious alliances

Assange's relationship with the Kremlin is contradictory, to say the least, comments Mária Gál in Népszava:

“Both Assange and Snowden, who strive for 'radical transparency' and present themselves as uncompromising fighters for freedom of speech and information, sought the protection of a dictatorship. It is telling that while Assange was arguing with the entire Western press he got his own show on the Kremlin's propaganda TV broadcaster. Undoubtedly, several of the documents leaked provided evidence of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. It is also true, however, that Assange has refused to publish documents that run counter to the Kremlin's foreign policy interests on his website.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

The media didn't do their job

The extradition proceedings against Assange constitute an attack on freedom of information, journalism and the media - nevertheless journalists the world over must acknowledge that they also failed to do their job, sociologist Tomaž Mastnak points out in Dnevnik:

“The media landscape was very limited even before the start of the Assange story. The horizons closed when the 'war on terror' was declared and Iraq was attacked on false pretences. If the media had acted freely as the 'fourth estate' and kept a close eye on the other three, the attack on Iraq might never have taken place, the information Assange leaked would not have had to be obtained from whistleblowers, and there would have been no need for Wikileaks.”

To Vima (GR) /

Wrong reasons for judgment

For To Vima, the verdict doesn't necessarily represent a victory for journalism:

“Even the British judge who ruled that Assange should not be extradited implicitly accepted the US argumentation in her explanation of the reasons for the judgment. ... The argumentation that journalistic investigation and disclosure of the truth should be treated as crimes. She simply ruled that Assange should not be extradited to the United States on humanitarian grounds and due to his deteriorating mental health. 'Freedom requires virtue and courage,' the Greek poet Andreas Kalvos wrote. The same applies for journalism.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Revelations save lives

Revelations such as those made public by Wikileaks play a key role in protecting civilians from attacks, colunmist Owen Jones points out in The Guardian:

“The US war machine depends on being able to airbrush out of existence the brutal human realities. If innocent civilians can be silently killed without consequences, then there is nothing to stop even more suffering the same fate. The US military cannot be allowed to operate with impunity: that's what this case is really about. And while Assange's freedom may be saved - though this is not certain - the argument for revealing the truth about wars conducted in the name of the American people must be made more stridently than ever.”

Aargauer Zeitung (CH) /

Nonetheless a victory for the US government

For the Aargauer Zeitung the fact that the judge considers the espionage charges against Assange to be justified is extremely worrying:

“This charge is aimed at the very heart of press freedom. Assange should spend the rest of his life in prison for publishing true information that is of interest to the public. ... Democratic governments are increasingly eliminating unpleasant contradictions by hiding unpopular facts behind a wall of secrecy. Assange broke through this wall. ... In the early 2010s, it looked like Wikileaks and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden might inspire many more people to spill the world's dirty secrets. With Snowden in forced exile in Moscow and Assange's long imprisonment, the US government has won the war, even if it has lost the battle to have Assange extradited for now.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Whether this was journalism remains open

To what extent Assange's actions were protected by fundamental rights remains open, La Vanguardia adds:

“Numerous journalists, including Pulitzer Prize winners, affirm that in their work they do precisely what Assange did: request information, receive information and publish information. However the news leaked by Assange was not the result of journalistic research according to deontological principles, but data theft from the US administration's secret archives. The ideological bias displayed by Wikileaks - it has never published information damaging to Russia - also raises doubts about the supposed altruistic motives in favour of freedom of expression. ... Assange's victory in court does not end the debate about the limits of investigative journalism and freedom of expression.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

A controversial figure - and rightly so

These extradition proceedings have nothing to do with freedom of the press, Deutschlandfunk clarifies:

“For one simple reason: Assange is not a journalist, he's a political activist. And as such he is not above prosecution. In the 2016 US election campaign, Wikileaks published emails from inside the Democratic Party. ... Hillary Clinton's image suffered as a result. And the revelations helped Donald Trump win. He thanked Wikileaks with a public declaration of love. Julian Assange had previously expressed his admiration for the Tea Party movement, and said that the future of the US lay with the libertarian wing of the Republicans. Meaning Donald Trump. So the whistleblower was actively involved in the 2016 US election campaign. Not everything that is published is journalism - and Julian Assange is rightly a controversial figure.”