Last month I wanted to write a news feature about Jewish soldiers in Australia’s military. Naturally I wanted to interview some of those soldiers to add colour to the piece. I didn’t want to know military secrets or tactical information. I merely wanted to speak to them about their feelings as Australian soldiers and why they were inspired to enlist. Even though I was not seeking information that could be considered sensitive, I still had to follow proper procedure with the ADF.
As a journalist I was happy to do so. This involved contacting the public affairs department of the Defence Force to gain permission. I was required to tell them what kind of piece I was writing and the kinds of questions I planned to ask. Again, no problem. I accept that as a journalist there are procedures to follow and responsibilities to uphold.
All of a sudden however, with WikiLeaks journalistic professionalism seems to have gone out the window overnight. And scarily too, the very people who are training the next generation of journalists seem to be lining up behind it, as are many well-known journalists that this generation aspires to.
Procedures such as the one I had to follow with the ADF appear to be meaningless, now that anything and everything seems ripe for the public domain.
I’m not blanket anti-WikiLeaks. I agree some things should be known to the public. After all one of the pillars of democracy is transparency and a free press. But there are some things, such as national security matters, that are confidential for a reason. I don’t want to know them.
Furthermore the idea of a free press is meant to help, and not hinder, our society. Publishing leaks that harms relationships between nations or puts people in danger is in my view most definitely a hindrance.
The WikiLeaks fan club seems to hail Julian Assange as a hero. This is another thing I disagree with. Assange is ego-driven and clearly sympathetic to a particular viewpoint. Even if some of his leaks are useful, his motivation in releasing them has not been honourable. He has a clear agenda, as outlined in this article that tells of former colleagues who grew disillusioned with his direction.
It is not up to me to decide if WikiLeaks has broken any laws or not. It is not up to me to decide whether the Swedish rape charges against Assange are legitimate or not. And it’s not up to me to tell anyone what they should think.
But it’s not up to Assange and WikiLeaks to tell people what they should think, either.
Social media giant Facebook has done a mammoth job in infiltrating many aspects of our lives. Like anything there are some people who love it and some who hate it. However, a recent example has shown that for individuals wanting their voice heard by government, Facebook is a very useful tool indeed.
Prior to Web 2.0 and Facebook most people let governments know their approval or disapproval at the ballot box. There have always been those who are more active in their communities in regard to speaking out about issues that concern them. However these people faced a far harder task in getting others on board, be it trying to get people along to protests or getting signatures on a petition.
Enter Facebook. The viral power of social media has now changed the way communities talk to government.
The example: Recently Waverley Municipal Council has proposed the construction of a depot on the site of Hugh Bamford Reserve in North Bondi. The project would involve the temporary excavation of much of the park to allow for the depot to be built. Once operational the site would be a hub for trucks, leading to noise and traffic congestion.
The community in North Bondi and its surrounds don’t want the depot and they’ve voted with their keyboards. This group has been created on Facebook specifically to protest against Council’s proposal:
In a short time the group has gained over 2,000 members. They are actively debating the issue and making their thoughts on the project known. Waverley Mayor Sally Betts clearly understands the impact this Facebook group is having. She has joined it herself and posts regularly in its forums to update people on the council’s position. Through the group, residents are replying to her posts and the conversation continues still.
What this all means is that Facebook has moved on from being merely a tool for friends to socialise online. It is now a genuine forum for political debate, and a very effective tool for communities to come together quickly, engage and speak about issues that affect them.
In days gone by the media was necessary to inform the people of what the government was doing, so that democracy could function. Now social media has entered the mix – to inform governments about what the citizens think – so that democracy can function even more effectively.
This is, indeed, a brave new world.