Why I’m not jumping on the WikiLeaks bandwagon

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.

(See previous post about WikiLeaks here)

A news experiment:

Theoretically, could someone shun all other media and rely solely on Twitter for news? To find out I’ve decided to tell the story of Australia’s 2010 Federal Election in under 20 tweets.

To make it more fun, I’ve introduced three rules:

  1. I must include tweets from people – not just news sites
  2. I must include tweets from the politicians who are on Twitter where possible
  3. I cannot use the same tweeter twice.

Here goes:

Election set for Sat Aug 21 12:05 PM Jul 17th

This election is about giving a great people a better government. The Coalition will end the waste, stop the taxes and stop the boats. 6:35 PM Jul 17th

According to Wayne Swan, Labor can’t stop the leaks. If you can’t govern yourself, how can you govern the country? 10:49 AM Jul 29th

So PM says she’s going to cut the PR and be the “real Julia”. Let me guess, a PR hack advised her to say that? 10:25 AM Aug 2nd

Switched on the NBN in Tasmania today. It will deliver faster internet to Australians & create jobs but @TonyAbbottMHR wants to axe it. JG 12:21 PM Aug 12th

A new opinion poll gives Labor an election-winning lead – but it’s close 5:57 AM Aug 18th

GetUp members and vollies are EVERYWHERE today as #ausvotes! 10:22 AM Aug 21st

Poms split their vote across 3 parties to get hung parlt. Ha! we can do it with 2 parties and a few indies! 12:17 AM Aug 22nd

ALP, Libs to negotiate with Independents to win office after Saturday’s election 8:37 AM Aug 23rd

Together with Bob Brown & Christine Milne, just signed agt with the PM to support a Gillard govt. Real movement on climate. More to come. 11:50 AM Sep 1st

3 independents don’t agree with each other but have put forward a “7 point wishlist” how will this be stable? 7:40 PM Aug 25th

Both Katter and Windsor have now criticised Abbott for refusing to put Coalition policies in to Treasury for costing. 10:41 PM Aug 25th

A confidential Treasury analysis has revealed an $800 million hole in the Coalition budget costings 12:11 AM Aug 10th

IND Wilkie reflects his constituency & backs Labor. 3 Amigos should reflect theirs & support LNP! 8:04 PM Aug 28th

Bob Katter throws his support behind the Coalition, but indicates it’s not unconditional support 2:10 PM Sep 7th

Tony Windsor chose to support Labor because of the issues of broadband and climate change. Onya Tony!! 3:09 PM Sep 7th

Do we have to wait another 17 days for Oakeshott to finish talking? 3:29 PM Sep 7th

OFFICIAL: Oakeshott and Windsor back Gillard. Labor survives election 76-74. Coalition defeated. 3:31 PM Sep 7th

Done – in 18 tweets!

Twitter habits of the kingmakers

Twitter has been huge at this election. From campaign arm to breaking news source, and more recently a post-election forum for debate, the microblogging service has thrived during Election 2010.

But how often do the cross-benchers in the House of Representatives tweet? I decided to find the the four independents and Greens MP on Twitter to see how they’ve embraced the service.

The Greens Adam Bandt is definitely the biggest Twitterer of the bunch. His following has grown by an average of 46 people per day and now stands at 3,525. He follows 1,112 people, among them ABC journalist Annabel Crabb and independent online news source Crikey. He also tweets fairly regularly, with 25 Tweets in the last week. Bandt seems to be “with it” in Twitter terms, his tweets a mixture of informational, conversational and light-hearted humour. In one he even says “Welcome to Twitter’s ‘Fake Adam Bandt’. My only request: please be funny!” (Note: I searched and could not find the fake one).

Rob Oakeshott definitely knows his way around Twitter, but one would guess he’s spent so much time being wooed by Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott that this has left him with no time in the day in which to tweet. He’s picked up an average of 145 new followers per day this week to currently sit at 1,267. He follows 949 people, including yours truly as of 10:44 this morning. His last tweet however was on August 18. It looks like at the start of the election campaign in late July he was quite the tweeter, but by the second week of August had largely lost interest. A tweet from 28 July says “Thanks for the oranges Tony!”. I assume he does not mean Abbott.

Bob Katter gave up on his Twitter account before it began. His solitary tweet from 28 May says “Getting on Twiter to connect with the real Australians – country Australians” but ol’ Bob has been quiet since. This may explain why only two people per day are joining his following – which currently stands at 729 people. In return he follows an interesting if short list of just 17 people which includes Tony Abbott, Godwin Grech, Laurie Oakes and Bill Gates.

Tony Windsor, Andrew Wilkie and WA Nationals MP Tony Crook are not on Twitter.

Social Media circumvents electoral advertising freeze

The 12am Thursday morning electoral advertising blackout has been a part of Australia’s electoral process at least ever since I was a voter. Indeed the Australian Electoral Commission website states:

Under Schedule 2 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, which is administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), election advertising in the electronic media is subject to a ‘blackout’ from midnight on the Wednesday before polling day to the end of polling on the Saturday. This three-day blackout effectively provides a “cooling off” period in the lead up to polling day, during which political parties, candidates and others are no longer able to purchase time on television and radio to broadcast political advertising.

This blackout is now challenged, however, due to the rise of Social Media. Services like Twitter and YouTube are allowing the political parties to continue campaigning right up until election day.

Just two hours ago, the Liberal Party’s official Twitter feed tweeted “Watch our new online video “Do you really know Julia Gillard?”.” The link goes to the following YouTube clip below. It’s not on TV, so it doesn’t break the blackout, but it may as well be – it’s a television advertisement in every sense.

Labor’s Twitter feed, meanwhile spruiks blog posts by the hour.

What are the repercussions? Clearly the media blackout laws were conceived in a time when Television, Radio and Print were the only media people had access to. With the development of the internet and more recently, Web 2.0, this has all changed. The uptake of Twitter and its embracing by politicians, and the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube have rendered the laws obsolete.

With Australia going to the polls tomorrow, it is obviously too late to change the laws for this election, but “Moving forward”, if the media blackout is to continue achieving the same goals it set out to do back in 1992 it will need to be revised with a view to including social media under what it terms “electronic media”.

Facebook as a tool of democracy

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.

While there is also an official petition to save the park, the Facebook group acts as a petition of its own. And over 2,000 people by joining the group have effectively signed it. Clearly, Waverley Council is taking it very seriously for the Mayor to placing the importance on it that she has.

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.


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