Anarchist or messiah, WikiLeaks founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange wears both mantles with ease. His avalanche of words continues to rock world capitals from Washington to Wellington, but the man himself is rather soft-spoken. S Kalyana Ramanathan braved Arctic weather conditions and jostling photographers outside Beccles police station in Suffolk, where Assange must report daily as part of his bail conditions, for an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Do you see yourself as a journalist or crusader?
I see myself predominantly as a publisher. That’s quite an interestingly play, but has been done in the US. Removing the political protection that journalists afford one another and the legal protection that the First Amendment affords publishers throws up the question: “Am I a journalist or what?” That is not really the question as far as law is concerned. The law is interested in “am I a publisher or not”. And without doubt, I am a publisher and editor. I still do some writing. I have been promoted up into managing other people. Hence, the best description would be publisher and editor-in-chief.
Where do you see WikiLeaks five years from now... if it survives?
On Mars (laughs). I hope we can standardise a certain type of publishing freedom for the little guys and the big guys. That we can get international covenants to promote that standard for freedom of the press and encourage ethical standards for journalists, so that good journalists are not out-competed by bad journalists.
Is there anything you have leaked so far that you regret?
Just as an example: A lawyer representing a client before the court cannot say he liked every single one of his clients. He can say — or the judge, or the people who believe in the judicial system would say — that every person has a right to be represented in court, provided certain minimum standards are met. And those minimum standards are public policy and not ad hoc arbitrary decision-making.
There has been speculation that you have the support of George Soros and Israeli intelligence service Mossad. Where do you think this is coming from?
(It is common) in the US to allege George Soros is behind everything. To be fair, the only vaguely conspiratorial things that George Soros has been behind is some of the ‘Colour Revolutions’ in Eastern Europe about five or six years ago that I know about.
As for Mossad, in the release of “Cablegate” material, there is no one spared. If you look closely, what has happened is that the New York Times as a media organisation has to be quite careful not to criticise Israel too much. So, if you look at the coverage in English that is coming out you will see little that is critical of Israeli behaviour and a lot critical of Iran, for example. That is not a true reflection of the “Cablegate” material. There is information in there that is critical of most countries — certainly including Israel.
There is a bias towards material that is critical of Iran because the information comes from US embassies and US diplomats reporting back to Washington. So, it does follow Washington’s agenda in terms of what US diplomats and political officers are looking to report and what they do report back to Washington.
Realistically, what are the chances you will be extradited to the US?
We foresee an attempt — that is clear — to pull me or others to the US. The way things are politically now in the UK, that attempt will not succeed. If there are further attacks on my morality or the morality of our organisation, we might lose enough political support in the UK such that the extradition process will not be stopped by the government of the UK. So, it is a political decision; it simply depends on what the political climate is and how independent the politicians are in each country (he talks about Sweden here) or how much they can be manipulated from the outside. Unfortunately, as we have revealed in the past, Sweden can be — has been — manipulated by the US under the table, in a whole host of arrangements that has been deliberately kept from the population. And those are not my words, but are of the US ambassador in Stockholm.
Do you think what you have done so far has changed journalism forever?
I hope so. Time will tell. I think more journalists as individuals working together, media institutions themselves working together, that is something we forced. As part of our conditions, we forced them (select media groups in the US, UK and France) to work together. I don’t think that is a normal situation. That is something we drove.
India is still a very young and evolving democracy. What do you have to say about the Indian media?
Well there are some very great little journalistic groups in India. (The) Hindu, (The) Times (of India) have been quite good... some of their material. In my dealings with Indians, there is such an incredible potential in the Indian media, because there is still a lot of corruption. On the other hand, journalism is quite vibrant in the medium and lower level. You have a rising middle class. You have more people getting access to the Internet. So, I am quite hopeful of about what is going to develop in India.
Do you expect your life to return to normal anytime soon?
Oh, I do hope not.
What do you mean?
We only live once. So, it is good to do something that is important and productive.