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Hypocritical Commemorations: World Press Freedom Day

Selected days for commemoration serve one fundamental purpose. Centrally, they acknowledge the forgotten or neglected, while proposing to do nothing about it. It’s the priest’s confession, the chance for absolution before the next round of soiling.

These occasions are often money-making exercises for canny businesses: the days put aside to remember mothers and fathers, for instance. But there is no money to be made in saving writers, publishers, whistleblowers, and journalists from the avenging police state.

World Press Freedom Day, having limped on for three decades, is particularly fraught in this regard. It remains particularly loathsome, not least for giving politicians an opportunity to leave flimsy offerings at its shrine. These often come from the powerful, the very same figures responsible for demeaning and attacking those brave scribblers who do, every so often, show how the game is played.

Every year, we see reactions often uneven, and almost always hypocritical. The treatment of US journalist Evan Gershkovich is the stellar example for 2023. Here was the caged victim-hero scribbler, held in the remorseless clutches of the Russian Bear.

It gave US Secretary of State Antony Blinken an opportunity to do the usual cartwheel. “Far too many governments use repression to silence free expression, including through reprisals against journalists for simply doing their jobs,” goes his May 3 press statement. “We again call on Russian authorities to immediately release Wall Street reporter Gershkovich and all other journalists held for exercising freedom of expression.” What, then, of the Australian publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange?

With unintended, bleak irony, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also thought it fitting to rope in the Secretary at a World Press Freedom Day event organised in conjunction with the Washington Post. Talking to his interlocutor, the Post’s David Ignatius, Blinken spoke of efforts to “fight back and push back around the world to help journalists, who – in one way or another, are facing intimidation, coercion, persecution, prosecution, surveillance.” This seemed grimly comical, given that the United States, through its agencies, has engaged in intimidation, coercion, persecution, prosecution and surveillance against Assange, whose scalp they continue to seek with salivating expectation.

In the course of the event, Ignatius and Blinken encountered Code Pink activists Medea Benjamin and Tinghe Barry. Both were keen to test the Secretary’s lofty assessments about Washington’s stance on free expression and journalistic practice. “Excuse me, we can’t use this day without calling for the freedom of Julian Assange,” exclaimed Benjamin, storming the stage where the two men were engaged in bland conversation. A bemused Ignatius duly approved of Benjamin’s eviction by three burly minders, seeing it all as part of “free expression”.



Barry’s own assessment of the whole show summed matters up. “Two hours and not one word about journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, who was murdered by Israeli occupation forces in Palestine, not one word about Julian Assange.”

Others from the US State Department were also found wanting. A department press briefing from Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson, opened with comments about World Press Freedom Day. He echoed the belief in “the importance of a free press. It’s a – we believe a bedrock of democracy.”

Then came a question from Matt Lee of Associated Press: Did the State Department regard Assange “as a journalist who is – who should be covered by the ideas embodied in World Press Freedom Day?”

Patel’s response did not deviate from the views of his superiors. “The State Department thinks that Mr Assange has been charged with serious criminal conduct in the United States, in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in our nation’s history.”

With dutiful adherence to a narrative worn and extensively disproved in Assange’s extradition trial proceedings, Patel spoke of actions that “risked serious harm to US national security to the benefit of our adversaries” (there was none) and subjected “human sources to grave and imminent risk of serious physical harm and arbitrary detention” (no evidence has ever been adduced by the Department of Justice on this point).

When confronted with Gershkovich’s detention as a precedent the US was potentially emulating regarding the publisher, Patel insisted the cases were “very, very different.” The US did not “go around arbitrarily detaining people, and the judicial oversight and checks and balances that we have in our system versus the Russian system are a little bit different.”

Patel has obviously not familiarised himself with those totemic, lugubrious reminders of the US justice system: Alexandra Detention Center (ADC) and the ADX Florence Supermax prison. Or, for that matter, discussions within the US intelligence services on how to abduct or assassinate Assange, where checks and levers are conspicuously absent.

Then came a White House briefing that same day, where the issue of Assange’s treatment, inconveniently for the Biden administration, reared its head. But not before the utterance of slushy remarks from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “It is not an exaggeration to say that the free press is essential to our democracy and democracies everywhere.” With the opening platitude came concern for Gershkovich and Austin Tice, whose “wrongful detentions we see around the world that we must stand up and call out.”

Enter Steven Portnoy of CBS News, who addressed Jean-Pierre on precisely that point. “Advocates on Twitter today have been talking a great deal about how the United States has engaged in hypocrisy by talking about how Evan Gershkovich is held in Russia on espionage charges but the United States has Espionage Act charges pending against Julian Assange.”

In being asked to respond to the criticism, Jean-Pierre, without batting an eyelid, asked what that criticism was. “Well, the criticism is that – the argument is that Julian Assange is a journalist who engaged in the publication of government documents,” came Portnoy’s response. By accusing Assange of crimes under the Espionage Act of 1917, the US was “losing the moral high ground when it comes to the question of whether a reporter engages in espionage as a function of his work.”

Jean-Pierre, evidently not well-briefed on the pitfalls and vicissitudes of World Press Freedom Day, merely stated that she would not “speak to Julian Assange and that case from here.”

After three decades, it may be time to forget the importance of this curious bauble of communications, not because of the sincerity of some of its advocates who genuinely seek to protect the lot of journalists, but because of the propagandists who willingly prosecute a case against Fourth Estate when it comes to national security and crude self-interest.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    Free press…what is that anymore? The USA press seems to be of peasants who are controlled under starter’s i e, owner’s orders, and, a middle to high group of foul opinioneers who seem to have no honesty and decency, which enables them to up the level of lies, propaganda, distortion, to suit, and for bigger money. Scribbling harlots stink, and Assange did what better, decent, honest journalism has not done. If you want to reverse things, and go from Ph D back to kindy, follow Merde Dog’s maggotty muck. I love the historical rebels, the French Resistance, Polish uprisers, NOT the dirty Quislings and Mosleys. Let us defy the stupidity of noisemakers…

  2. Terence Mills

    Does King Charles have the power, as he ascends the throne, to release prisoners much like
    Pontius Pilate or an outgoing US President ?

    It was Obama who released Chelsea Manning who was, after all, the source of Assange’s publications .

  3. Clakka

    Ha ha ha haar. World Press Freedom Day …. what a bloody farce.

    Nevertheless, and important farce.

    Just to be treated to a reminder of the set-piece lies, misrepresentations and hypocrisy of the attendant governments, their flunky representatives and bands of untouchable brigands. They don’t give a f^ck any more that they are giving the finger to an audience of informed journalists, and the world.

  4. Michael Taylor

    I do believe that he does, Terry, via what’s called the “King’s Pardon” (a concept copied by the Americans).

    Prior to the Battle of Culloden the King decreed that no pardons would be granted to the Scottish ‘rebels’ because (on this instance) they were considered to be traitors to the Crown. But he could have, if he so wished.

    It’s “the divine right of kings”.

  5. Harry Lime

    Another in a series of shit hot articles Binoy.I trust you are in a safe house somewhere.And…I can’t let it pass..Portnoy’s Complaint?

  6. Andrew Smith

    I think if he could be quietly returned to a life of obscurity in Oz, though not sure Assnage can go quietly, nor is he a saint?

    Disagree with Assange’s later actions going off piste from Wikileaks protocols i.e. dumping the DNC emails to embarrass Clinton, with complicity from Russians, Fox News and Trump’s team, accusing Seth Rich of being the leaker; then claim conspiracy by Clinton’s to murder Rich; symptoms of narcissism?

    Very low and according to the Daily Beast (& other reports 2019):

    ‘Mueller Report: Assange Smeared Seth Rich to Cover for Russians. Julian Assange repeatedly blamed Seth Rich, the murdered DNC staffer, for Russia’s leaks. The Mueller report shows that Assange was lying from the start.’

    Fast forward, Rich’s parents took legal action against Fox News, according to NPR (2022) in ‘Seth Rich’s killing was exploited on Fox News and online. His parents are fed up’:

    ‘After Seth’s death, figures friendly to former President Donald Trump portrayed him as a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter. They peddled false claims that he had secretly stolen thousands of emails and given them to WikiLeaks to try to stop Hillary Clinton from winning the presidency. They suggested Clinton and the Democrats had arranged his killing. And that the Riches themselves were in on some kind of cover-up. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange fueled the suspicions, aided by such extremist blogs as Gateway Pundit.

    None of this was true.’

  7. Andyfiftysix

    Freedom of the press has turned into a farce. Maybe in some distant past it did mean something to some people. Like most recent inventions, for example expensive watches, its but a parody of the ideal modern man. A fashion statement, a personal statement of intellectual position and an ideologcal position from the “owner’s” perspective.
    The press is always driven by profit and relevance deprevation. When halfway through the news we get a report on the queen’s loyal corgies, you know the ABC is just part act and part serious. When tucker carlson is allowed to go on a rampage live on air, murdoch is only interested in ratings.

    However, lets not toss out the baby in the bath water. I dont want to dwell on the sillyness of the headline statement. Thank goodness we dont live in Russia, China, Turkey and many other repressive places. I really do appreciate our ability to call out the crap we see everyday. Thats what freedom means to me. Even though in reality its a limited freedom because what we read is always from one perspective or a systemic bias. I say three cheers for. THE AIMN network, we know where its coming from and most people here post freely and with some intellectual rigor.

  8. Lyndal

    Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one according to HL Mencken

  9. Canguro

    Phil Pryor, absolutely! Hypocites always have a difficulty then it comes their sense of the log in their eyes while all the while attacking others unfortunate enough to have copped a splinter. The USA upper echelons of state-speak, the Blinken types are nowadays characterised by their utter adherence to oleaginous weasel word of zero depth, understanding, wisdom, balance, tolerance, compromise, compassion, forgiveness, peace-making, along with a vitriolic dislike of those who show them for the dark-side operatives that they are.

    And Lyndal, yes indeed, good of you to remind us of the great Harry Mencken

  10. Pingback: This week in nuclear news – Australia and more | Nuclear Australia

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