Monday 29 November 2010

Wikileaks does it again

The whistleblowing website Wikileaks has been at it again, releasing 250,000 classified diplomatic cables sent by US embassies around the world.

Not only has it caused a diplomatic crisis, it's also been hugely embarrassing for many world leaders and heads of state.

Despite the inevitable backlash, and claims by government officials both here and in the United States, that it puts our national security at risk. I think the leaks are incredibly useful and informative.

The efforts by the Guardian, and the New York Times in publishing the leaks are great examples of investigative journalism in the public interest.

It's good for our democracy that ordinary people can gain an insight into the workings of international diplomacy.

Nothing that's been revealed today is necessarily earth shattering, much of the information is nothing more than diplomatic gossip, but just because it's gossip doesn't mean it's irrelevant or of no value.

The leaks have shone a little light into the confidential world of international diplomacy.

You may remember that back in July this year, the Guardian, the New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegal published over 90,000 classified military documents leaked by Wikileaks relating to the Afghan war.

I don’t think today’s leaks are as significant as those, but they’re still important.

I refuse to fall for all the talk of national security being put at risk, which some of the UK Press are claiming, and other senior political figures both here in and the US.

Is our national security really at risk from the discovery that Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi is viewed as:

"feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader."

That's only confirmed what I and many others around the world have thought for years.

As for revelations that Arab leaders wanted the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme; again it’s embarrassing for them, but not hugely surprising. It’s just fascinating to hear those comments confirmed.

I've been reading loads of reports and opinions on the leaks today. Some of the best comments I've read and agreed with, came from the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger.

This is what he was quoted saying earlier today:

"I think it is a good thing that newspapers should bring this stuff into the public arena. It's not the job of the media to worry about the embarrassment of world leaders who have been caught saying different things in public and private ... especially some of these gulf states that don't have a free press.

If the president of Yemen is saying different things and lying to his own public about what's going on, I don't think it's the job of the newspapers to hush that up,"

I also had a look at the New York Times' website to read their reports, I think they answered the national security issue well when they said they withheld some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts.

Maybe I'm being overly naive, but I don't believe the Guardian and the New York Times are going to act so irresponsibly as to publish material that's going to risk our national security.

I suppose in some ways it's obvious I have a very journalistic view when it comes to the leaks.

I like gossip, I like to know what's going on. I like the idea of private confidential information being made available for the benefit of the public.

Also, if I'm being honest I like seeing senior political figures and world leaders being embarrassed and made to feel uncomfortable over their diplomatic dealings.

Once the US government and other world leaders get over their embarrassment they'll need to start coming to terms with the new reality of international diplomacy and the maintenance of state secrets.

The days when confidential government information would only be revealed decades after an event, or when the main political protagonists were long dead are probably over.

Our digital culture means it's more likely that information will be made more freely available to people and at a much quicker speed.

This should result in people seeing a greater level of transparency in the way their governments operate and function, and may mean more accountability.

There's still a long way to go, but the actions of Wikileaks are speeding up this process.

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