The ABC documentary “Hero or Villain”: Undermining the defence of Julian Assange By James Cogan

12 August 2019 — WSWS

A two-part documentary on Julian Assange by the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) “Four Corners” program, which went to air last month, has been rightly condemned by prominent figures in the campaign to defend the persecuted WikiLeaks publisher.

The program was broadcast under conditions in which Assange, an Australian citizen, is imprisoned in Britain and faces trial next February to sanction his extradition to the United States on espionage charges, and the Trump administration has indefinitely re-imprisoned Chelsea Manning, the courageous whistleblower, for refusing to testify against Assange.

The production was an attempt by the ABC to undermine the fight for an independent political movement demanding their immediate freedom.

Julian Assange arrested by British police on April 11

Filmmaker and journalist John Pilger, a well-known public advocate for Assange, condemned the “Four Corners” documentary as a “smear posing as journalism,” whose “gratuitous abuse, omissions and servitude to the lies of power make a textbook model of modern propaganda.”

Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team since 2010, agreed to be interviewed in the documentary. In an interview after its first part had been broadcast, she told ABC Radio National: “That was supposed to be a program about Julian Assange’s prosecution. Instead, it turned into a prosecution of his personality.”

As the comments of Robinson and Pilger indicate, the preoccupation of “Four Corners” was not with the significance of the journalistic exposures published by WikiLeaks, or the democratic rights at stake in the nine-year US-led vendetta against Assange. Rather, the bulk of the program consisted of giving a platform to representatives of organisations that have vilified, slandered and marginalised him.

These included Alan Rusbridger, the former editor of the Guardian; Scott Shane, national security correspondent for the New York Times; Neera Tanden, a Democratic Party advisor to former US Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; and Clinton herself. It also featured embittered former WikiLeaks employee Daniel Domscheit-Berg, with whom WikiLeaks severed relations in September 2010 and who has since made a media career denouncing his former colleagues.

The statements of such people were used by “Four Corners” to substantiate the pernicious subtext of the entire program: that Julian Assange should be viewed around the world as dubious at best, and criminal at worst, and undeserving of even sympathy, let alone active political support. This position was conveyed in the title of the documentary, “Hero or Villain.”

Assange was accused of being an “information anarchist” (Rusbridger), lacking a “moral compass” (Shane), “a bit megalomaniac… a bit narcissistic” (Rusbridger), “getting into bed with the Russian government” (Shane), “a tool of Russian intelligence” (Clinton) and “a central reason of why Trump got elected” (Tanden).

“Four Corners” and its executive producer Sally Neighbour used its own reporter, Michael Brissenden, to throw into the mix the pathetic smears that Assange displayed “odd behaviour” and had “questionable hygiene standards.”

The claims that Assange does not deserve to be defended, on the basis of one or another false or exaggerated claim, has been the justification for a range of political and media organisations to line up with the US state and remain silent as freedom of speech—and the very existence of independent and critical journalism—comes under an historic assault.

In that context, it is significant that the ABC did not feel it could give any credence to the allegations made in Sweden in 2010 that Assange was under suspicion of committing sexual assault. As “Four Corners” was obliged to note, Assange was never charged with any offence. The Swedish prosecutors abandoned the case more than two years ago.

By that time, however, the character assassination had served its sinister purpose. A whole layer of fake “lefts” used the false allegations to abandon any defence of Assange. He was forced to seek political asylum in Ecuador’s tiny London embassy in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden and rendition to the US. Assange is currently imprisoned in Britain solely for reneging on the bail conditions imposed by British courts as he was fighting the Swedish charade.

The comments that “Four Corners” incorporated into the program from Jennifer Robinson, current WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafsson and Chelsea Manning’s lawyer Nancy Hollander were generally counterposed to other slanders against Assange however.

These included:

  •  An insinuation by Domscheit-Berg that Assange used Manning and put her in danger by obtaining leaked information from her when she was a US Army private serving in Iraq.

Hollander and Hrafsson stressed that Manning was not encouraged or pressured by anyone, and had already downloaded all her files before contacting WikiLeaks. She is currently being imprisoned indefinitely on the orders of an US judge because she has refused to alter her stance and give false testimony against Assange.

  •  That Assange was indifferent to “harm” caused by publishing the leaks and had “blood” on his hands.

Hrafsson noted that no such evidence has ever been produced. Moreover, the Manning leaks exposed rampant war crimes, including the mass killing of civilians by the US military and its allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The question that was not asked by “Four Corners”—of Clinton, other figures who served in the US government or the establishment media representatives—is why no American and allied political or military leader has been charged and tried.

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