The role of media in the WikiLeaks revelations

usembassycablesAmong the many news events vying for our attention in today’s media – mainstream and social – arguably the revelations from WikiLeaks about confidential communications between US embassies around the world and Washington will capture a majority of that attention in many countries.

You can read all about it – just Google for wikileaks cables: that will get you thousands of results.

Another aspect of it presents an intriguing question – what is the role of the mainstream media (especially but not exclusively) in protecting government information and responsible publishing? I can’t comment on what the answer might be from three of the media organizations who have received material for publishing – New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais – but the fifth, The Guardian in the UK, has presented its own commentary on this subject.

The Guardian says it is for governments not journalists to guard public secrets, and there is no national jeopardy in WikiLeaks’ revelations:

[…] Is it justified? Should a newspaper disclose virtually all a nation’s secret diplomatic communication, illegally downloaded by one of its citizens? The reporting in the Guardian of the first of a selection of 250,000 US state department cables marks a recasting of modern diplomacy. Clearly, there is no longer such a thing as a safe electronic archive, whatever computing’s snake-oil salesmen claim. No organisation can treat digitised communication as confidential. An electronic secret is a contradiction in terms.

Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be “world policeman” – an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global. Nonetheless, the Guardian had to consider two things in abetting disclosure, irrespective of what is anyway published by WikiLeaks. It could not be party to putting the lives of individuals or sources at risk, nor reveal material that might compromise ongoing military operations or the location of special forces. […]

Well argued and I largely agree although I have some discomfort with the word “anything” in the phrase “Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest.” Anything? Doubtful.

What’s your take on the role of the mainstream media in all of this ? Responsibility? Read the Guardian’s full report for more on their justifications.

Meanwhile sit back and await more revelations via WikiLeaks in the coming days. And see how governments – especially the US – handle this huge crisis in relationships.

[Update] The Guardian has published this video in which they explain the significance of the leaked information and its consequences.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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