BOGOTÁ – The Julian Assange affair means different things to different people, but one lesson should be clear to all: states are not inconsequential to journalism.
When WikiLeaks hit the global news scene, it was saluted as a true original: an innovative form of journalism that countered states’ power by challenging their ability to suppress critical, sensitive, or unflattering news. WikiLeaks capitalized on the potential of digital technologies to circumvent official censorship and, thanks to whistle-blowers, disseminated information that governments wanted to keep secret.
As a result, Assange was viewed as the embodiment of a new type of “anarchist” journalist who could ignore state borders and scare government officials (or at least make them more cautious about what they write in diplomatic cables). Those who championed WikiLeaks rushed to celebrate it as a shining example of crusading, “stateless” journalism.
Assange’s international legal troubles, however, show that the state is alive and well, and that journalism is not beyond its reach. The state is not a relic of bygone times, displaced by global accountability. The visible hand of the state (actually, several states) is everywhere in this diplomatic imbroglio.