People who defend freedom of press without restrictions or limitations, using the classic argument of “the people have the right to know”, have barely even started to scratch the surface of a much bigger issue. Sure, it would be all beautiful and perfect if we could indeed publish everything we want without any repercussions or consequences, but that’s just not the way it works.
Here’s a blog post based on what I have learned in Media Law this year – and what I have taken from it concerning this whole WikiLeaks debate.
When learning what can and cannot be disclosed to the public there are two things we must keep in mind. First, that everyone is entitled to freedom of expression but that this freedom might be subject to conditions and restrictions. Second that everyone has a right to a private and family life, their home and their correspondence.
From these two articles of British Law, we are taught that some things cannot be disclosed to the public, like the names of rape victims, or the name of juvenile delinquents. What I take from this is that, guess what? You’re not entitled to know everything because you don’t need to know everything.
Some things are meant to be confidential, there is such a thing as national security. And if these confidential facts do not concern the public interest in anyway there is absolutely no need to publish them or expose them.
Yes, there are restrictions that need to be broken, and I will not deny that some of the things Assange has released needed to be known by the public (like the refusal of the Vatican to contribute to a Holocaust memorial after the second world war). And the decision to break them is given, possibly in an unfair manner, to the press or to the whistleblowers.
These restrictions, and the breaking of them, create a stable accountability in the society, where journalists may hold people in positions of authority responsible for things they might have done wrong and could affect the public.
That being said, I reserve the right to judge how these restrictions are broken and for what purpose. Assange seems to be an arrogant, self-righteous man, who thinks he can challenge any sort of world authority without having any consequences. And the worst thing about it is that he might be right.
Besides, any person who treats rape charges as lightly as he did, does not deserve high considerations from me.
That being said, I’ll probably read his autobiography when it is published…