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February 15, 2012

UN Agency’s Conference on Media World After WikiLeaks (Live Blog)

Posted in: Media,Press Freedom,WikiLeaks

[UPDATE - 9:58 AM ET] Stopping to cover another important issue – the US Homeland Security Department’s monitoring of social media.

[UPDATE - 9:55 AM ET] Jane Kirtley, Silha Prof. of Media Ethics & Law, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, U. of Minnesota, draws attention to public opinion and gets into the motives for whistleblowing and the motives for publishing. She says in the context of leaking there are sanctioned political leaks, sanctioned strategic leaks, whistleblowing leaks and leaks that arise from overclassification. Motives for publishing may be altruistic, competitive or agenda-driven.

“All motives have serious impact on how public regards questions debated,” she adds. There’s always been perception there are “media bad actors.” She talks about how Espionage Act, Theft of Government of Property, Law Against Identifying Covert Agents, etc, could be used against whistleblowers or anyone involved in a leaks organization. She mentions attempt to pass Official Secrets Act when Bill Clinton was President of the United States.

“I believe the government has moved very strategically over the years very carefully crafting the framework that would make them possible to bring such an action.” She says they don’t want a misstep, don’t want to blow it and don’t want another Pentagon Papers. She brings up case of Samuel Loring Morison, which helped establish precedent for prosecuting those who leak to press.

[UPDATE - 9:47 AM ET] Geoffrey Robertson, legal counsel for Julian Assange, speaks during panel on international law after WikiLeaks. Some highlights—

Robertson outlines three supreme violations of freedom of speech committed by the US: Bradley Manning, who was locked up for eight months in solitary confinement without blankets or even a pillow and waken every few minutes, charged with a capital offense, to get him to squeal on Julian Assange; put frighteners on WikiLeaks domain name servers – WikiLeaks.org – Amazon gave in and refused to host the site on their servers; US government put pressure on PayPal, Mastercard and Visa to stop allowing donations to WikiLeaks (“You can buy Nazi uniforms or Ku Klux Klan outfits but you can’t donate to WikiLeaks.”)

Robertson reminded the audience: “All this time has passed, not a single casualty. The point is that none of the critics see none of the cables were classified top secret. The authors of the cables did not expect reprisals. The cables were available to 2.5 million people including 22-year-old discombobulated soldiers.”

Robertson outlines four principles that should be promoted: 1) citizens everywhere have a democratic right to know what government does in their name 2) governments bear sole responsibility for protecting properly classified info 3) outsiders who receive or communicate confidential information should not be prosecuted unless they’ve obtained by fraud or bribery or duress 4) national security exemption should be precisely defined and should protect identity of sources at risk of reprisals but should not stop whistleblowers from revealing human rights violations.

[UPDATE - 7:25 AM ET] Second panel discussion wraps. It was largely on professionalism & ethics but sort of collapsed into wide conversation as a delegate from Angola and a representative from Balkans and someone from Latin America asking why there was so little inclusion of Latin American, Asian or African voices in the two-day conference. Why weren’t more of the 50+ media partners included? And that is a valid question. Honestly, the entire conference could have been people who worked for media organizations that partnered with WikiLeaks. Region-by-region the conference could explored what WikiLeaks exposed about the state of press freedom in the world.

Now, Charles Obyongo-Obbo of The Nation in Kenya: “There tends to be a lot of focus on sensational, political stuff…One of the most revealing things is just the way the American diplomatic mind works. I never actually knew that just by looking at spots you can tell a lot about a country.” He also said, “If we had a different kind of journalism, WikiLeaks would not have been a hot story. And WikiLeaks happened because media are too preoccupied with the kind of things that News of the World was involved in.” He discussed importance of cultivating online communities and how many on Internet have seceded from being audience of major press organizations because they don’t trust certain news or they don’t news asks right questions.

[UPDATE - 7:20 AM ET] UNESCO & WikiLeak are at odds over the conference and now WikiLeaks posts email exchange showing why they would not let anyone other than Geoffrey Robertson, Assange’s legal counsel, speak at event.

[UPDATE - 5:24 AM ET] Each of the opening statements from Sylvie Kauffmann of Le Monde, David Leigh of The Guardian, Charlie Beckett of Polis and Ian Fisher of New York Times suggested there was not much harm from release of information by WikiLeaks. Then Q&A began and two correctly noted that they seemed to be ignoring or neglecting Bradley Manning’s current situation. In fact, a gentleman who said he was affiliated with the NYT, said he thought the panelists were kind of “smug.” This led Leigh to apologize for not mentioning Manning. Other panelists went around addressing this issue of “smugness” among panelists.

New York Times‘ Ian Fisher said during Q&A that his colleague David Sanger recently spoke to a State Department official, who was very upset with publication of cables. They said in the end the harm was very small and in the end “Pakistanis guarded their fissile material in a much better way after it came out that somebody could possibly get a hold of it.” I think David Coombs should take note of this. He should get this State Department official to testify under oath at Bradley Manning’s court martial.

To the controversy around whether WikiLeaks was banned, Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression & Media Development, said as he wrapped up first panel – “How Professional Media Deal with the Digital Environment”:

I’m very glad this session didn’t turn into a eulogy or euphoria or whipping session for WikiLeaks because that was not the point of it. The point was to say what is the meaning. Now, WikiLeaks themselves do feel a bit persecuted, I think, and they are saying on the Internet that they are banned from this conference. I want to say very clearly we have emails that include the invites to them to participate so I don’t know what is motivating them to come up with that particular story.

For a blow by blow of the first panel, check my Twitter feed here.

Original Post

A conference on journalism in a digital era featuring professional journalists, media law experts and “citizen” journalists is being held in Paris by the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) and the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC). The conference, “The Media World after WikiLeaks & News of the World” will examine various issues journalists confront in the aftermath of the WikiLeaks phenomenon and the phone hacking scandal.

The conference is attracting a bit of attention, especially among WikiLeaks supporters on Twitter, after WikiLeaks released a statement claiming that UNESCO had not invited anyone from the organization to speak at the conference. In the statement, WikiLeaks called for people to #OccupyUNESCO because they were “stacking” the conference with “WikiLeaks opponents.” (Here’s the post I wrote up on the statement and the roster of speakers invited to participate in the conference.)

Here is the program for the conference that will begin at 9 am Paris Time (3 am EST). This is how the conference organizers are framing the conference:

With a stunning 2 billion persons estimated to be using the Internet and producing 156 million public blogs in 2011, there has been a surge of social networks, user-generated content and micro-blogging that has enabled all Internet users to become public communicators. Along with the spread of the Internet, WikiLeaks’ release of a massive number of classified government documents and its initial collaboration with traditional news media has modified the media landscape and raised crucial questions for journalism.

Following a conference organized by  the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) and the  World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) at UNESCO HQ on “New Media: The Press Freedom Dimension” in February 2007, there is a need to explore further the future of traditional media and professional journalism -with their established practices, traditions and standards- as challenged by emergence of new actors and approaches like WikiLeaks.

UNESCO’s program rightfully concludes that WikiLeaks raised many issues involving freedom of expression, freedom of information, national security, privacy, ethics and even “how journalists do their jobs.” So, the conference will address these questions:

  • How can journalists deal with the massive explosion of primary source data made available on the Internet? Should journalists’ roles and their professional and ethical standards be reconsidered?
  • What is the relationship between “citizen journalism” and traditional journalistic professionalism?
  • What are the challenges for international and domestic law related to privacy, national security, public order and Internet freedom?
  • What is the future of government-media relations?

It will be interesting to see how the speakers address WikiLeaks. Will any of them talk about how they made a major contribution to uncovering corruption or will the focus be solely on how they handled or in some instances mishandled the documents they obtained from a whistleblower (who may or may not be Pfc. Bradley Manning)? Will they talk about what WikiLeaks exposed, like how they brought attention to major threats, which the US government and other governments of the world currently pose to core freedoms?

Perhaps, some will dwell on their belief that WikiLeaks is dead. This will color their discussion and they will focus on what WikiLeaks did wrong and why traditional media is still needed in the world and digital actors, especially organizations like WikiLeaks, are not to be trusted. (None of which is my opinion. Just a prediction.)

You can tune in to the conference here  - in English or in French. I will be following it. Look for updates from me on Twitter @kgosztola and in between the panels and during the lunch break look for updates here with interesting quotes from speakers on “professional journalism,” ethics in a new media environment, international law and government-media relations (which should be interesting as the conference will be getting into this question: “What, if any, antidote is there to the likelihood that governments will now try to exercise more control over relations between officials and journalists?”)


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