WikiLeaks has created a new media landscape (Guardian online article)
By avoiding national secrecy laws, WikiLeaks has begun a publishing trend that no regime can stop
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WikiLeaks affects one of the key tensions in democracies: the government needs to be able to keep secrets, but citizens need to know what is being done in our name. These requirements are fundamental and incompatible; like the trade-offs between privacy and security, or liberty and equality, different countries in different eras find different ways to negotiate those competing needs.
In the case of state secrets v citizen oversight, however, there is one constant risk: since deciding what is a secret is itself a secret, there is always a risk that the government will simply hide an increasing amount of material of public concern. One response to this risk is the leaker, someone who believes that key elements of political life are being wrongly kept from public view, and who circulates that material on his or her own.
Because this tension between governments and leakers is so important, and because WikiLeaks so dramatically helps leakers, it isn't just a new entrant in the existing media landscape. Its arrival creates a new landscape.
This transformation is under-appreciated. The press often covers WikiLeaks as a series of unfortunate events, one crisis or scandal after another. And Julian Assange, of course, is catnip – brilliant, opinionated, a monocle and a Persian cat away from looking like a Bond villain. The press has covered him as dutifully as any movie star, while paying too little attention to what his invention means about the wider world.