Assange free, the press too?

After striking a deal with the US judiciary, Julian Assange is a free man. In a US court on the Pacific island of Saipan, the Wikileaks founder pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally obtain and disclose classified documents relating to national defence. His sentence was ruled to have been served during his five-year imprisonment in the UK. He was reunited with his family in Australia on Wednesday.

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Público (PT) /

We are indebted to him

Journalist Carmo Afonso pays tribute to the Wikileaks founder in Público:

“Assange's deal seems to have prevented a judgement that would have threatened the freedom of all journalists. I'm talking about a concrete threat: court decisions set precedents and influence future decisions. Julian Assange saved himself by accepting this deal. But ultimately he did much more than that. ... He brought highly incriminating information that we would never have known about into the public domain. ... We are indebted to him for that. And we are also indebted to him for showing that the democratic societies we live in are not havens of freedom and human rights.”

e-vestnik (BG) /

He would have been long dead in Russia

In taking this more lenient approach with Assange the US has proven that the rule of law still prevails there, e-vestnik comments:

“For years, the US fought a legal battle in British and US courts, until it finally reached a settlement and let Assange go. He was not poisoned and nor did he fall out of a window. In Russia, no court would have passed such a ruling. Innocent people spend years in prison on trumped-up charges. If Alexei Navalny had posted secret Russian files on the internet, he would have been shot long ago.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

Espionage Act a threat to journalistic work

The Assange case does not bode well for the future of press freedom, the Irish Examiner warns:

“It's hard not to be shaken by the charge the US Justice Department forced Assange to plea to in order to get his freedom. ... Just imagine what an attorney general in a second Trump administration will think, knowing they've already got one guilty plea from a publisher under the Espionage Act. ... Whether you think Assange is a 'journalist' or not, the DoJ wanted him convicted under the Espionage Act for acts of journalism, which would leave many reporters exposed to the same. Now we can only hope this case is an aberration and not a harbinger of things to come.”

Documento (GR) /

Thorough research is the guiding principle

News website Documento comments:

“It was certainly no coincidence that in 2022 five major media outlets – The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, El País and Der Spiegel – called on the US government to drop certain criminal charges against Assange, who was accused of breaking the law by publishing classified information. As these same major international media outlets note, mainstream news outlets do this from time to time without legal repercussions. This is part of their job and their function. And it's what every journalist should do. What it really comes down to is thorough research.”

Respekt (CZ) /

Data must be contextualised

Respect comments:

“The problem today is not the lack of information but rather its collection, processing, interpretation, the ability to work out a comprehensible story from the chaos of the times. The problem is not even the secret-mongering of the ministries, but disinformants who spread endless amounts of ballast on the networks that the public can't understand. Julian Assange is returning to freedom, to a world that has hardly improved as a result of WikiLeaks' efforts. On the contrary, paradoxically the hacker opened the door to a situation in which a flood of information without interpretation or context leads to a generalised loss of understanding of the world.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

The US needs Australia

Biden wanted to finally get the issue off his back, says La Repubblica:

“There were many reasons in favour of settling the case before the elections in November. Even if the White House is stressing that the decision to strike a deal was made independently of the Department of Justice. At the international level, Assange's fate was complicating relations with important allies such as Australia, which is particularly important in the fight against China, especially after the Aukus agreement on the joint development of nuclear submarines needed for surveillance in the Pacific.”

Marina Ovsyannikova (RU) /

From whistleblower to Putin's agent

Shortly before his release, journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who became famous for protesting against Putin on Russian state TV, takes Assange to task on Facebook:

“He only criticised stable Western democracies, especially the US, but totalitarian and authoritarian regimes were not hit by his activities. ... Without anyone noticing, Assange went from being a useful idiot to being a full-blown agent of Putin. In 2014, the top whistleblower publicly took a pro-Russian stance on Ukraine, and during the US election campaign Wikileaks began to actively spread compromising information about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. At the same time, material that compromised Putin and his entourage and which Assange promised to expose was never published.”