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The article by Chris Berg titled ‘The Weight of the Word’ published in ‘The Age’ on December 12, 2010 is a critical review of the reaction of the United States’ government to the WikiLeaks of Julian Assange. Assange revealed classified information from the government that shocked the world. The leaks did not just focus on the issue about the United States’ internal affairs, but also how the United States related and thought about other world leaders. In fact, the bulk of the information released to the public came from the diplomats who were in other countries as ambassadors of the United States. In this article, Chris is criticizing the move taken by the government agencies to criminalize WikiLeaks, and direct the attempt to deprive it of its financial sources. A section of the society even demanded a death penalty for Assange for the massive revelation of the classified materials. In this study, the researcher will conduct a negative analysis of this article.
This research seeks to conduct an evaluative analysis of the article by Chris with the view of identifying the specific issues that should genuinely be considered by the government and those that are based on personal biases. After reading this article, it is clear that Chris has made a genuine case against the government. He says that the government of the United States overreacted to the revelations made by Assange to the public. Media’s role is to reveal the information that they are not aware of, so that they can be informed. This includes releasing information that the government may consider classified. The leaks made by Assange were not the first revelations.
There had been other media leaks about other sensitive issues, including in the mainstream media. In these leaks, the government never paid any serious attention, and they passed as mere gossips. However, the leaks from Assange raised a massive government reaction. The arrest, harassments, and direct attempts to gag the blogger were a clear indication that the information released touched the government the wrong way (Domscheit-Berg, Klopp, & Chase 2011, p. 56).
Chris believes that it is the responsibility of the press to inform the public about the issues affecting the society in one way or the other. The government has the responsibility of guarding the information that it considers classified. Once the information reaches the media, it should find a way of neutralizing it instead of attacking the journalists involved in the leakage. Assange, as a blogger, was releasing the information that he considered was of public interest.
He did not mean to harm the government officials or anyone for that matter. He was informing the public about the massive information that came his way. That is what every journalist or media house would do to remain relevant to the public. However, the actions of the government are a clear indication that American press is not yet free from the control by the government. Berg says (2010, p. 1) says, “To oppose WikiLeaks is to be against the press freedom and free speech.” This research will evaluate this argument to determine if it has some truth in it.
The article by Chris Berg gives a critical evaluation of the actions taken by the government agencies in reactions to the information released in the WikiLeaks. The strength of this article lies in its support for the freedom of the press. The press is not part of any government agency. In fact, Keller and Star (2011, p. 27) note that the press is the chief observer of the government, meant to ensure that excesses of the government are properly regulated. In a democratic country like the United States, the sovereign power lies with the people. The people always delegate this power to the government through a democratic election.
The press is also answerable to the people, by reporting on issues relevant to the public. Just like the government, the media should not fail in its responsibility in the name of protecting the government. If the national government engages in deals that are not pleasant, Berg (2010, p. 1) believes that it should face its mistakes instead of attacking the media. In this article, the reporter rightfully says that the time when the government controlled the press is long gone. The press has a mandate to the public to make true reports about any issue that affects the Americans in one way or the other. The freedom of the press should not be negotiable, and actions of the government to jail the whistleblower is very worrying. If this trend is allowed to continue, then the American press will be reduced to being a mouthpiece of the government.
The argument put forth in this article has numerous weaknesses, which may be attributed to the limited knowledge that the author has about the national security and foreign relations, or his biasness against the government agencies. According to Sifry (2011, p. 71), when enjoying their freedom, the media must remember that they also have a responsibility to the people of this country and to their government. The press plays an important role in any country, and any irresponsible journalism may have dangerous repercussions. There are cases where the press was used to pass hate speech that led to massacres.
A clear case in point in the recent times was the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Using its freedom, the media was used to pass ethicized hate speech against a particular community. In fact, the journalists in these media houses, who were acting with the support of the editors and media owners, broadcasted that the Tutsis were cockroaches that should not be killed using bullets. That would be a waste of national resources. They were to be killed using swords, like dangerous weeds. As they made such dangerous statements, the Hutus were implementing exactly what they heard. The result was a massacre of over one million people. That is what this freedom, if unchecked, can do in a country.
In his article, Berg says (2010, p. 1), “They illustrate the use of political pressure to silence a media outlet that has done no more wrong than cause embarrassment to the United States’ government.” What he forgets is that the media shapes the opinion of the public, not only within the country, but also in the international community. The United States can only be successful if its people, and the people of the international community, respect the government. When the government is embarrassed, the trust and respect will be gone, and this would lead to anarchy. The positive relationship that the country enjoys with the international community has been affected massively.
The revelation by Assange was reckless, and the author of this article admits to this fact. Responsible journalism holds that any information released by the media should be meant for the positive good of the society. The information from this site only served to increase the animosity between the United States and the international community. The government of the United States has the mandate to protect its people. At times, it may collect information from the international community on various issues.
This may not mean that the government is working against that country. Such information will be classified in order to retain the positive relations with such countries. Sometimes the classified information may be on sensitive issues about security. Releasing such information to the public, where American enemies can have easy access, is not only a criminal act, but treasonable.
In his closing remarks, Berg says (2010, p. 1), “Whatever the long-term repercussions of the diplomatic leak- and they may be substantial- that colossal failure is to blame; not a journalist who, having received newsworthy information, publishes it.” The researcher considers this information reckless. He appreciates that the repercussions may be colossal, but he still believes that it is not the responsibility of the journalist to protect such information. What he should remember is that the responsibility of protecting this country is in the hands of the Americans, not just the government.
The arguments in this article raise a genuine case against the attempt of the government to control the information in the media. However, its main weakness is that it forgets that the same government has the mandate to protect the American interest. In his article, he reckons that the leak may have colossal impacts on the government, but feels that it is not the mandate of the journalist to guard such information. He forgets that it is the responsibility of every American to protect America, and that when the government of this country suffers; it will actually be the Americans suffering.
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List of References
Berg, C 2010, ‘The Weight of the Word: To Oppose WikiLeaks is to be Against Press Freedom and Free Speech’, The Age. Web.
Domscheit-Berg, D, Klopp, T & Chase, J 2011, Inside Wikileaks: My time with Julian Assange at the world’s most dangerous website, Crown Publishers, New York. Web.
Keller, B & Star, A 2011, Open secrets: WikiLeaks, war and American diplomacy, The New York Times, New York. Web.
Sifry, M 2011, Wikileaks and the age of transparency, OR Books, New York. Web.