Robert Redford, the Newsmedia and the WikiLeaks’ Cablegate

2009 portrait of the actorI fell in love with Robert Redford in The Sting when he was young and I was younger. Redford is one of the cinema’s greatest undervalued comedians; his timing is flawless as showcased in early work like “Barefoot In The Park” or later “Legal Eagles”. He even brought humour to his portrayal of “the Sundance Kid,” for whom his film festival is named.

But Redford has put in some brilliant performances in political films over the years.

He turned in a brilliant performance in a cautionary tale called “The Candidate,” which demonstrates clearly how degraded democracies can become.

But there are two movies I was reminded of when I read about today’s WikiLeaks story.

At the end of the movie “Three Days of the Condor,” the inadvertent hero Redford plays achieves freedom the only possible way:

by releasing the classified information to the media.

Because we know that even though he is a whistle blower, once the world knows he will be safe.
And we know the news media will ensure that the story gets out.

We know that.

WikiLeaks "hourglass leaking earth" logo
Robert Redford also played Bob Woodward in “All The President’s Men,” the film version of the true story of the “Watergate” scandal that brought down the Nixon administration.

There are countless stories of the bravery of reporters who risked, and in many cases lost– their lives in pursuit of a story that was important to them and the public. And it still happens.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that the world has changed a lot in the last few decades. In many cases, the News Media is not doing the job we believe it is. Citizens around the globe have NOT been told about the dangers of ACTA or the importance of Net Neutrality to free speech and democracy.

Part of it is, I am sure, that technological advances, in particular the Internet, has caused great upheavals in the Media business. As ownership has been increasingly centralized, downsizing, “dumbing down” and decimation of staff has left many newsrooms in very reduced and weakened states. The agendas of the corporate masters more often determines what is reported and how.

So we are very fortunate to have WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks was gifted with a heap of really important information. In order to ensure dissemination, they passed them around to five major news outlets located in 5 different countries. Each were aware the others had the story, so they ALL had no CHOICE but to publish, with or without corporate or government approval.

In this way, WikiLeaks guaranteed that the story broke and spread.

UK: The Guardian US embassy cables leak sparks global diplomacy crisis

SPAIN: El Pais The greater infiltration of history reveals the secrets of American foreign policy (Google translation to English)

USA: New York Times: Cables Obtained by WikiLeaks Shine Light Into Secret Diplomatic Channels

FRANCE: LeMonde WikiLeaks: Behind the Scenes of American diplomacy (Google translation to English)

der Spiegel: Greatest Data Leak in US Military History

Now that it is out, there is no stopping it.

Al Jazeera: Secret US embassy cables revealed

Perth Now: Australia on WikiLeaks ‘cablegate’

boingboing: Wikileaks secret US Embassy cable site live

Mobile Tribune: 1128-“When the Head is Rotten, It Affects the Whole Body” WikiLeaks Cable Quote from Saudi King Abdullah

ANTIWAR.com: State Dept: FDP Makes Germany a ‘Difficult Partner’ in Terror War -Cable Says FDP Too Interested in Personal Privacy to Be Responsible Partner

This will go on for months. Maybe years.

@glynmoody

US ambassador to the UK complains about the loss of *privacy* of those writing the cables – http://bit.ly/eHlQWC #wikileaks

Guardian: US diplomats spied on UN leadership

There is a huge amount of information, and it will take time to digest, but at least it has gotten out. That’s a good thing.

Der Spiegel also has an interactive map.

@DougSaunders

Have you noticed that you can hit the “play” button on the Spiegel map and it shows the cable-bubbles appearing year after year?

— Doug Saunders, European Bureau Chief, The Globe and Mail

The map shows Canadian cables for:

  • Vancouver 44
  • Calgary 14
  • Ottawa 1948
  • Montreal 82
  • Quebec 52
  • Halifax 136

Of course, no Canadian news outlet was selected as a recipient of any of these WikiLeaks cables.

@kady

I mean, at least if there was a Canadian media partner, there would be someone to bully/entreat over upcoming Cdn coverage. #wl

–Kady O’Malley, CBC reporter

Canadian Coverage

red maple leaf graphic

CBC: WikiLeaks reveals undiplomatic U.S. critiques

Canada’s government funded public broadcaster, the CBC, uses an American “Licensing” scheme which doesn’t allow even purely non-profit fair dealing reuse of their publications by Canadian citizens. So why would WikiLeaks even CONSIDER releasing this story to CBC?

Clearly, just like in “Three Days of the Condor,” WikiLeaks wants to spread the story as far and wide and as fast as possible. So that it can’t be stopped.

Globe & Mail: Released WikiLeaks documents shed light on diplomatic dispatches

The Globe likes to call itself “Canada’s National Newspaper,” but like that other television broadcaster, the Globe is owned by Bell Canada Enterprises. I assume that this corporate connection would be the reason why the Globe has been first so quiet and about the  fact  Canadian Internet rates are shortly to go through the roof due to Usage Based Billing.  It is only recently that it’s been possible to find UBB on their website at all.  Now  that they are, the bias is thick enough to cut with a knife.

As a blogger I prefer not to link to Globe articles because in the past they’ve broken links by placing articled behind a paywall.

So I can’t imagine the Globe standing up to government pressure to suppress the WikiLeaks story.

Having a Canadian Government in the process of pushing through Bill C-32 in the face of Universal opposition to appease the American Government, it’s easy to imagine our government buckling at the first sign of American disapproval.

So WikiLeaks released the Cables to 5 dispersed news outlets as a strategy to ensure that the story will break.  Because that is the reason for the very existance of WikiLeaks: to get the story out.  Even if it means the end of WikiLeaks.

Which is, of course, why WikiLeaks is so incredibly dangerous to governments who want to act without oversight or scrutiny.  And why Wikileaks is the destination of choice for whistleblowers with politically sensitive leaks go.  Because WikiLeaks is in it to get the story out.  Period.

Last Hurrah?

Even so, WikiLeaks has been down every time I’ve attempted to visit their site today.

I saw an unsubstantiated report that they were suffering a DDoS attack. And it isn’t hard to imagine where such an attack may have originated.

Of course, their servers may simply have gone down under the onslaught of un-official media outlets (like me).

Of course there have been tales of military personnel wishing for the demise of WikiLeaks. If they didn’t like WikiLeaks before this…

This story is out. It can’t be put back in the bottle. And that’s good.

If WikiLeaks is targeted, or taken down, what I worry about is the next story.

we are ALL in this together

Fortunately, I’m not alone in my concerns.

When Iceland’s Modern Media Initiative gets referendum approval, they are aiming to be good to go by 2012.

ICELAND TO BECOME INTERNATIONAL TRANSPARENCY HAVEN

“I am proud to advise the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative’s proposal to create a global safe haven for investigative journalism. I believe this proposal is a strong way of encouraging integrity and responsive government around the world, including in Iceland. In my work investigating corruption I have seen how important it is to have have robust mechanisms to get information out to the public. Iceland, with its fresh perspectives and courageous, independent people seems to be the perfect place to initiate such an effort towards global transparency and justice.”
—Eva Joly MEP – Icelandic Modern Media Initiative

That will be good for us all. Lets keep our fingers crossed that WikiLeaks can last that long.

Just In: WikiLeaks is Live!

Now you can peruse the Secret US Embassy Cables yourself.

Get ’em while they’re hot.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

 



Image Credits:
Robert Redford photo by Public Citizen published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Thanks @nomalab, @satipera and Glyn Moody and Jérémie Zimmermann

What Happened to the News Media?

You become a writer, by writing. You become a driver by driving. You may be licensed to drive, but if you don’t get behind the wheel and drive, you aren’t a driver, In the same way, you become a publisher by publishing.

I am just floored by the saga underlying the p2pnet article: Wayne Crookes wants to freeze the net. It seems that p2pnet Blogger Jon Newton is (and apparently has been) almost all the way through the Canadian court system because he’s being sued for defamation and libel. Next stop: Supreme Court of Canada.

Mr. Newton is in fact the publisher of a blog called p2pnet. He is being sued by Mr. Crookes for libel and defamation, not because Newton himself published anything defamatory or libelous, but because Newton linked to other articles on the Internet that Mr. Wayne Crookes of West Coast Title Search Ltd. claimed were libelous and defamatory.

The crux of Mr. Crookes’ suit is the contention that creation of hyperlinks and subsequent refusal to remove hyperlinks to alleged libelous web pages makes Newton a publisher of the source material, and therefore responsible for it. The convoluted idea is that he became a publisher of the source material through inaction.

On all of Mr. Crooke’s previous days in court against Mr. Newton, the courts have agreed that the use of an Internet hyperlink is the Internet equivalent of a footnote, therefore absolving Mr. Newton of any culpability. That seems perfectly reasonable to me. I’ll go along with the idea that a link is the Internet equivalent of a footnote that will direct you to the source.

But the Montreal Gazette article explains Mr. Crooke’s latest argument:

Crookes contends that Newton, by creating the hyperlinks and then refusing to remove them when advised they were libelous, became a publisher by his inaction.

“Given that Mr. Newton didn’t break the hyperlink and continued to act as a chain of publication, Mr. Crookes is taking the position before the court that he is in fact republishing the defamation,”

said Dermod Travis, a spokesman for Crookes, owner of the company West Coast Title Search.

from the Montreal Gazette: Supreme Court wades into Internet speech debate with hyperlinks case

Jon Newton’s article explains Mr. Crookes contention:

“linking to an article is the same as publishing it and that linking to an allegedly libelous article can, therefore, be the same as defamation.”

from the p2pnet article: Wayne Crookes wants to freeze the net.

A slashdot comment suggests that unlinking the link would have made it into a mere textual footnote and solved the p2pnet problem is… ahem… absurd. After all, a proper footnote in a scholarly work tells you what the exact source is. If the source is a published book, I should be able to get a copy from my local bookseller, which would put the source directly into my hand. Does that mean the bookseller published it? Hardly.

Whether an Internet footnote (aka a hyperlink) is an actual hyperlink — like this earlier p2pnet story:
http://www.p2pnet.net/story/12056

or a textual representation of a hyperlink like this: http://www.p2pnet.net/story/12056

it is possible for anyone to click the former or cut and paste the latter your search bar and voila, you’re at the original source.

Libel? Defamation?

It doesn’t even matter whether the articles p2pnet linked to were in fact defamatory.

That isn’t the issue Mr. Crookes has brought before the Canadian Supreme Court, it is whether or not including a hyperlink to source material makes you responsible for the source material. The Crookes contention is that Newton’s links to the source material makes Newton a publisher of the allegedly defamatory original source.

What is a publisher?

I would think that a publisher would have at least some element of of ownership– even if only moral– and at least some measure of control in the publication.

Book, Newspaper and Magazine publishers have traditionally asserted copyright over the material they publish, and because of this, have been able to charge advertisers to advertise in their publications and to have customers purchase a single issue or subscription.

Wikipedia has an excellent comprehensive article on what constitutes publishing, and nowhere do they say use of a hyperlink constitutes publication. Of course, Wikipedia is one of the parties Mr. Crookes has sued.

As a lowly beginner blogger, I do not have ads on any of my blogs. Even so, I am the publisher and have control over what goes into them. Although I have not been blogging long, I have learned that the point of the internet is inter connectivity. Because of this, I strive to use as many links as possible in every blog post to share my source material. By using these hyperlink footnotes, my readers have the opportunity to decide if I have misinterpreted the information provided by my sources.

The reader can read the link in my blog, but unless the reader clicks on the link, the reader cannot read the source material. Because the source material is not in my blog, it is not under my control. It is published on someone else’s website.

As a self-publishing blogger I have authority and responsibility for what is in my blog. Although I can direct people to the source of information with a link, I have no control over the information in the link. I have absolutely no power to add to or change the information on the originating site. I do not receive either royalties or advertising revenue from the originating site. It’s terribly annoying when a site I have linked to breaks the link. I know how frustrating it is to read an article with broken links. But the person creating the link has no control over the sites they link to.

If the source material that Jon Newton or any online publisher links to proves to be libelous or defamatory, then I would expect the originator of the libel and/or defamation to face a court challenge. I have grave reservations about censorship of web content based on allegations, rather than rule of law. If the material is alleged to be defamatory or libelous, the law can investigate. If convicted the originating website will take the offending material down one way or another.

If that happened, Jon Newton’s links would have been broken. He would not have been asked to act as judge and jury. The LAW would have filled those functions. Yet it seems that he is being sued because he did not himself break the links based only on allegations.

Jon Newton is a blogger, not a judge. Bloggers engage in online discussion, and express opinions and disseminate information, not pronouncements of law.

This is a huge issue that could well lead to ramifications for the freedom of the entire Internet.

Mainstream Canadian Media is near silent

As I write this, I’m a little bit nervous. I don’t have a lawyer. What if I get sued? I’m just a mom with a blog, trying to make sure that the Internet continues to be a wonderful interactive place, to do my bit to see that the world our kids inherit is as good as it can be.

One of the first things I learned as a parent is that children learn best from modeling. Freedom of speech is incalculably important, and I have always taught the importance of standing up for what you believe in. Using fear and allegations to censor and suppress dissent is never a good thing for society.

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

–Edmund Burke

An issue this important should be getting big headlines in Canada at least. Talked about on the Radio. Top of the hour on the TV news. But no. I only heard about this from an online friend Haris in Malaysia who was reDenting British writer/journalist/blogger glynmoody. Not from the Canadian news media.

The “News media” has a mystique which has built over the years.

The legend grew as great reporters risked their life and liberty so that great newspapers and radio/tv stations could honestly inform citizens about what was happening in the world.

Reporters like Ireland’s Veronica Guerin risked and lost their lives exposing drug dealers to make the world safe, and reporters like Woodward and Bernstein risked their liberty reporting about corruption at the highest level of the American government to make the world better for succeeding generations. Many reporters have risked their lives for a story over years, many have gone to jail in order to protect their sources. Many have died.

Getting these news stories was important. But the value to society only came into play when the newspaper published the story.

@haris CNN screenshot. Their Newspulse shows Wikileaks vid as most popular story. They still won’t feature it. http://file.status.net/identica/greggish-20100406T032041-cgghd33.png

Unfortunately there has been an ever increasing trend to sacrifice the news to profits. Newspaper, radio and television newsrooms have been gutted and gutted and gutted some more. Reporting the news started coming second to ratings. Objectivity lost out to advertisers. Today the news is “packaged”, and quite often editorial content seems handed down from above.

As news outlets have been bought and sold and sold some more they have ended up as tiny pawns in gigantic media corporations. I don’t know if they’ve lost their voices, or if they are afraid to report for fear of being shut down entirely.

There are precious few independent news purveyors left in the world. And even those few are scrambling for advertising to survive. In today’s world advertisers seem to dictate the news.

But what they are NOT doing is providing the news without fear or favor,

In Canada, the “news media” is NOT telling Canadians about Usage Based Billing. Around the world there has been barely a breath about the secret A.C.T.A. treaty being aggressively pursued by many supposedly democratic governments in secret… because they know very well their citizens would not agree.

And we are still a nation at war. Why? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t strike me as a just war. Worse, bad things happen. Canada has not behaved well in Afghanistan. Our military and our government is implicated under a cloud of torture which continues to be covered up. Even Pierre Berton wouldn’t have been able to make this one palatable. I suspect it would have sickened Canada’s esteemed biographer as much as it sickens me.

Bad things are continuing to happen. Canada is no longer the lily white peace keeping force. We aren’t helping anyone. Continuing to hang around and prop up this war that is bad for all of us; it lends credibility to the war that shouldn’t be.

And today another horrendous story has broken, which again was brought to my attention from the other side if the world, from wikileaks via Haris, who lead me to a blog post by biologist P.Z. Myers: We have seen evil, and it is us Unlike professor Myers, I can’t watch the “Collateral Murder” video which shows the casual slaughter of Iraqi journalists. But I can help spread the word.

What ever happened to the Canadian news media? Shouldn’t intrepid reporters be spilling these stories? Two Iraqi journalists lost their lives… and for what? Why aren’t their brethren standing up for them?

Why isn’t the news media doing its job?

That’s why net neutrality is so important. Not just for internet freedom. But for freedom.