The buzz around WikiLeaks’ cables and the website’s founder Julian Assange keep on feeding our media all over the globe. Recently, Facebook 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2010, beating the popular favourite, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which lead to a global controversy about the “political” choice of the magazine. Last week Assange, who is still under house arrest and faces an extradition hearing in Janurary, walked out of the London court as a free man.
Last week EMAJ Magazine proposed a first overview of reactions in the EuroMed press with France, Turkey, Sweden and Egypt. Read now the reactions in Romania and Spain.
1- Following the global trend (Romania)
By Luciana Grosu
WikiLeaks’ received a relatively large coverage in Romania, which was strong enough to start debates in both traditional and online media. The Romanian national media agency Mediafax focused on WikiLeaks’ “hot revelations” about different countries, such as the U.S., France, Portugal, Thailand, Iran, Israel, etc. Global politics were only presented and explained from the angle of Wikileaks’ cables, i.e. “Fidel Castro refused colon surgery in 2006 and this is the reason why he had to retire in favor of his brother Raul”.
Mediafax also followed closely Julian Assange’s “adventures” in the UK and kept on commenting the various steps of the story (retained, arrested, freed on probation, i.e. “Julian Assange freed on bail“).
In general Romanian newspapers followed the global trend and reported on WikiLeaks cables. “Are the USA exporting terrorism?” asked for instance the daily major Romania Libera. Assange’s struggle to get away from the CIA was sometimes negatively reported upon, such as in the daily Bacau 7/24: “Julian Assange’s presumed victim might be a CIA collaborator“.
There was no exclusive focus on Romania, though WikiLeaks’ documents concerning Romania were also highlighted. Mediafax wrote for example: “The United States, worried about the radical Muslims and the Albanian, Chinese and Romanian human trafficking networks of Catalonia”. Romania Libera further wrote: “According to WikiLeaks, the ex- European Commissioner, Chris Patten, claimed in 2004 that Romania and Bulgaria were less prepared than Croatia to join the EU. Chris Patten labeled Romania as “a wild state”. The other daily major Evenimentul Zilei joined the “slightly-expired WikiLeaks list of revelations” and published a story about Romanian narcotic traffickers arrested in 2006 in the UK.
One of the favorite topics in Romanian media was migration. Romania Libera revealed the following: “In 2008, Spain believed Romanian immigrants did not represent a threat since they will go back to Romania due to growing unemployment”.
Generally, the Romanian press reported on WikiLeaks’ cables as true information and presented them as such, although the well-known Romanian journalist Ion Cristoiu expressed his doubt regarding WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange in a TV interview: “ I don’t know who is this man and whether he is telling the truth. He never reveals his sources of information. We still don’t know who is behind him, who gives the money in order to make sure WikiLeaks continues to exist?”.
Independent bloggers on the other side strongly supported and defended WikiLeaks: “Ion Cristoiu was paid to defame WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks documents reveal a paranoid US administration which asks their diplomatic staff to spy other countries and obtain vital information, including Romanian leaders’ biometric data”.
2- Journalism and the philosopher’s stone (Spain)
First came the scandal. The night when the Spanish daily major El Pais (which was one of the European publications directly receiving the cables from WikiLeaks) broke its usual online design to present the “greatest leak in history, giving way to the biggest secrets of United States’ foreign policies”. It just seemed as if there was going to be a before-and-after-wikileaks-moment, leading to a new way of portraying diplomacy and politics.
In Spain, altough the only media having direct access to the cables was El Pais, all national and even regional newspapers, radios and television channels reported on them during the first few days after the leak. While mountains of cables regarding issues related to Spain still keep on appearing (on Sunday 19th of december, El Pais had already published 216 documents about it), the trend now on how to focus on the information seems to have shifted to a different angle, forgetting the content of the cables and giving space to the question of what is right and wrong for a journalist to publish, and above all to the limit for the freedom of the press.
Lara Vidal, in an opinion article published in the daily newspaper La Razon, wrote that WikiLeaks brings “little or no new information at all to journalists”, and described it as “jumble of known facts and diplomathic gossip”. According to her article there is a “dark and unexpressed reality behind Wikileaks”, which could be any future problems that the revealed information could bring to drug traffic control in Mexico or the battle against islamic terror worldwide. This opinion article showed the feeling of unease of some media regarding the WikiLeaks’ issue. But this was also perceived by some readers as “envy” towards daily El Pais, for being selected as the one to distribute the information in Spain.
While journalists and newspapers discuss the future of journalism after WikiLeaks (whether it is necessary to publish the information, whether it is risky, whether journalists do provide their readers more or less of what they should know, etc.), hundreds of people in Spain have united in a large number of cities to protest against the possible closure of WikiLeaks’ website and support its leader, Julian Assange.
On the night of December 18th, Spanish blogs, twitters and other social networks, buzzed through the call for the ‘Operation Paper Storm‘, aimed at printing thousands of leaflets asking for more transparency in the news and the right to have access to the forgotten or unpublished cables by Wikileaks. This took place on a delicate moment for Spanish Internet users as a new law forbidding Internet downloading is about to be approved by the Spanish Goverment.
Three weeks after the first WikiLeaks cables came into our lifes, Javier Moreno, director of El Pais, reported on Sunday’s 18th editorial on some of the crucial aspects of the Wikileaks situation nowadays. Moreno stressed the importance of media’s commitment to the truth and an informed society, instead of a society aiming at protecting governments: “The Establishment hates the revealed truth, said Simon Jenkins of The Guardian regarding Wikileaks. I would add that the Establishment is afraid when the truth does not match its discourse”. Moreno closed his analysis supporting the publication of the confidential documents as part of “the reason of being” for media in general, as an obligation towards a democratic and free society.
Journalist Carlos Marmol concluded on his blog ‘La Noria‘ that “Internet is an ally of journalism, not its enemy (…) The effects of WikiLeaks on the society will depend on the maturity of each society, its freedom and responsability”.