As soon as I knew Wikileaks existed, it made me question certain aspects of journalism. Is it okay to widely publish information from anonymous sources? Or, how about publishing “secret” documents submitted by whistleblowers? Are these things covered by the journalistic requirement to inform based on what’s necessary and important to the public’s well-being?
I view Wikileaks as sort of a grey area in journalistic ethics. While personally I believe a platform like Wikileaks’ is important to maintain a certain level of transparency in government and society, I can see the ethical problems involved and they have me undecided. I guess like many things it could be circumstantial – these ethical problems could limit the publication of some documents based on the issues surrounding the acquirement of the information.
On the other hand, if a submission was from a whistleblower and was unlawfully attained, BUT held shocking information the public deserved to know, isn’t it then the journalist’s duty to give the information to the public despite how the document got into their hands?
Such is the case with a video showing US military airstrikes in Baghdad killing many civilians. It drew negative attention to the US military, and rightfully so. Because someone on the inside took the risk to submit the video, leading to its debut on Wikileaks, the world cast a questioning eye on the US military and their involvement in the Middle East. They were publically being held accountable for their actions.
Isn’t that the goal? Isn’t transparency what everyone wants? I thought so, but then Julian Assange was suddenly a criminal. I’m not talking about his other, more scandalous brush with the law, but he was criminalized for telling the truth. Ironic, huh? Of course many parties involved in the Wikileaks documents would deny any wrong-doing, possibly leaving Assange to face a number of libel cases, but much of what’s leaked on Wikileaks appears to be true.
I don’t think the power of information has changed. I think the realization of the power of information has changed. It’s like people were reminded how important information can be, and what it can do. I also think Wikileaks reinforces the need for trained journalists. Wikileaks cables would be nothing more than gibberish to the majority of the public – it becomes paramount to have someone capable, like a journalist, to make sense of documents not meant for public consumption. We need them to interpret.