Ithaka: the disaster that slipped past you

I watched Ithaka last night. I hardly ever watch telly, and like many people these days, when I watch a film, I’m generally doing at least two other things at the same time. Himself watched it too. We sat side-by-side, and watched in silence, and in the two interruptions for adverts (it was on ITV) we didn’t talk – we skittered off to use the loo, grab a glass of water, and skittered back again.

There are lots of people whose lives have been stolen by rogue states. There are lots of films about how, when the justice system walks over one person, a whole family, a whole social group, is severely damaged. Lots to talk about there – but this case is different and, whatever you may think about Julian Assange, please read far enough for me to remind you why it matters.

The point made by several interviewees during the film, the point that has neatly slipped past so many of us, is this:

The United States of America gave itself the right to prosecute journalists for espionage quite some time ago, but it’s never used that power before, so no-one seemed to be thinking about what that meant. They used that law, for the first time, in response to a release of information by Wikileaks and two internationally famous newspapers.

They only went after Assange. The Wikileaks team have done their best to defend him but, for obvious reasons (disgusting, but obvious) those newspapers have not just muted reporting about the strangeness of that decision but, even when they do risk mentioning it, have carried on feeding the world those aspects of the story that make Assange unpopular, so that the response to this injustice is kept as small and divided as possible.

Nevertheless, awareness, and fightback, are growing.

Click here to watch the movie

This is the disaster that slipped past you

In that first court hearing, the real issue at stake for all of us was can a state prosecute a journalist for espionage when what they have done is expose the crimes of that state? Neither the British state nor the court challenged that point, and Suella Braverman has now nodded it through on behalf of the government that claims to be defending freedom of speech in other arenas. The extradition hearing was merely considering whether Assange was too vulnerable and too ill to be released for extradition.

That was the day they hammered the last nail into the coffin of press freedom, of your freedom and my freedom. That was the day the axe fell. That was the end of anyone’s opportunity to hold a government to account without putting their own freedom on the line.

From now on, when we complain about politicians lying, and about the media failing to hold them to account, that is the day we must remember. There will be ever more crimes committed by our governments now, because journalists have been told in no uncertain terms – this is what will happen to you, if you spill the beans on your government when it really matters.

They have picked out that man, and only that man, because they were confident they could destroy him — not least because many of you don’t like him, for one reason or another. They picked out that man and destroyed him and only him, destroyed him very publicly, so that now, today, when a journalist uncovers something you need to know, s/he will think, I don’t want to end up like Julian Assange. And 99 journalists out of 100 will think, okay, I’ll wait, and expose this wrong when I feel safe to do so — in other words, I’ll wait until it can’t bring down a government if I tell you.

What are we going to do about it?


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