Thursday 22 August 2013

Sex, Lies and The Guardian- Miranda, Snowden and Assange

The Guardian is currently most indignant about the treatment of David Miranda, the partner of one of their journalists who reported on the case of the documents leaked  by Edward Snowden.
The Guardian is portraying itself as defender of freedom of information and opposition to government surveillance. This is slightly ironic considering that Guardian columnist Deborah Orr had a few weeks previously written a cover story praising David Cameron’s plans to turn on default internet filters in every home in the U.K. However, that is not the main instance of double standards and hypocrisy which I would like to highlight in this blog.
A year ago columnists from The Guardian  together with other segments of the U.K. ‘liberal’ media turned on Julian Assange, a man who had previously been their darling.
The reason for this about turn was attempts by the Swedish Government to have Assange extradited in relation to suggestions that he had committed sex crimes. It is important to note that he had not actually been charged with anything, despite having previously gone to a Police station voluntarily to answer questions and waited in Sweden for 5 weeks before legally leaving the country. The current state of play is that the Swedes would like him to return to Sweden to answer some more questions- after which they will decide whether there are charges to be answered. Despite  doubts about whether  charges were going to be issued, tactics were used to try to return Assange to Sweden which would normally be used for dealing with terrorists.
A few male writers have foolishly published very ill advised opinions about the Assange’s alleged conduct. Having a sensible conversation about the allegations against Assange was actually very difficult. There was practically a media blackout in the U.K. When one interviewee on Newsnight mentioned the name of one of the women who had made the allegations he was told that it was not appropriate to mention the name of an alleged victim of sexual assault. However, the names of the women were easily available on the internet all of the world. In fact the situation about these allegations are extremely complicated and it is difficult to make a reasoned opinion about whether there is a reasonable chance of Assange being charged with anything or successfully prosecuted. Please note that is a separate issue from whether his conduct was appropriate or not.
If you want to get an understanding of the chain of events behind the Assange case I would recommend that you watch the brilliant Australian documentary Sex, Lies and Julian Assange.
Watch it and make your mind up. This information has never been openly discussed in the U.K. media- allegedly because it is not U.K. practice to debate these issues before a case is tried. However, in this case it seems unlikely that there will ever be charges and in any case all this information is available in most of the world including the country in which any trial would take place.
Despite the lack of any clarity that Assange was ever going to be charged with anything (never mind be proven guilty) Guardian columnists went hell for leather to disparage and savage Assange’s character. If you read the link below you will find details of some of the abuse which was directed at him.
Suzanne Moore accused him of being a ‘turd’ in a tweet and also suggested that he put hamsters up his anus. Deborah Orr, vanguard of liberty, said that he should return to face charges in a Guardian on-line article. This article has since been altered (with an acknowledgement that this was done) to reflect that he has not been charged. However, writing this in the first place shows a real disregard for journalistic rigour.
Assange was championed by the Guardian when he was revealing things which embarrassed U.K. and foreign Governments. However, as soon as the allegations of sexual misconduct were made he was suddenly transformed into a sleazy persona non grata without any reasonable debate about the validity of the allegations made against him.This is not of course an isolated case of shoot first and do the journalism later. George Monbiot reached a settlement with Lord MacAlpine in March for having written a libelous tweet  linking him to a sex scandal. It seems that when sexual misconduct is alleged all forms of process and evidence are considered unnecessary. In spite of this Will Self has written a piece recently about how upset he was about being wrongly suspected of being a pedophile while on a walk with his son. Clearly Guardian columnists are entitled to fair treatment and presumption of innocence while public figures they dislike are not.  
David Aaronvitch is also reported as having said ‘Don’t you think that supporters of Assange are misogynistic. Just for the record I don’t count myself as a supporter of Assange or a detractor. I have mixed feelings about Wikileaks and I have no idea whether he is guilty of any sexual crime. What I do have a strong dislike for is sloppy journalism and  schoolyard name calling by people who claim to represent the values of liberal and progressive society.
I think what the Assange  about turn shows is that the Guardian’s willingness to stand by whistle- blowers is not very robust. It is therefore very difficult to be convinced of the sincerity of their staunch defence of their own journalist and his partner. The McAlpine incident shows a lack of care to check the truthfulness of allegations.
The real problem with the Guardian is that there are seemingly two different teams writing in it. There is the team of hard journalists who go all over world breaking serious news stories and then there are the columnists who think the paper is just a platform for their own prejuduces where they can write nonsense  without doing any research.
If the paper really thinks that free speech and fair treatment of people are important it should stand by these principles and ignore opportunity to take a populist  slant against these principles.

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