Gordon Campbell on economic reporting, & Assange sex charges   14 Jan 2011

Gordon Campbell

Judging by the Christmas retail figures for electronic card transactions the New Zealand economy is still in traction, with consumers still reluctant and/or unable to spend. December saw in fact, a seasonally adjusted decline in core retail spending, as measured by credit card and debit card activity. The NZ Herald article confirming this sorry situation is an interesting piece for other reasons as well, though.

Written under Philip Borkin’s byline, the article cites the salient facts about credit card inactivity etc and then seeks commentary from…Goldman Sachs economist Philip Borkin, who conveniently confirms the trend that his journalist self had just gleaned from the figures. Namely, that the Christmas period had not been joyous for retailers and – judging by these figures - the level of spending in the New Zealand is still stuck much where it had been back in the middle of 2008. In all, Borkin-the-economist takes up six paragraphs of Borkin-the-writer’s 12 paragraph piece.

Assange in the Dock

Many thanks to Tze Ming Mok for correcting my original précis of the charges against Julian Assange that form the basis of the extradition argument being mounted by the Swedes. I’ve held off replying to Tze Ming until seeing the gist of Assange’s defence. While the full details of the case against Assange have still to be released – that won’t happen until early February - I think Bianca Jagger’s piece in the Huffington Post explains why doubts exist about the sturdiness of the case against Assange, starting with the decision by the initial chief prosecutor Eve Finne : “ The decision which up to this point has been established is that Assange is not suspected of rape and he is therefore no longer wanted for arrest.' As Jagger goes on to say:

It is widely known that the complainants first approached the police because they wanted assistance in securing an STD test. Initially, there was no mention of pressing charges of rape, coercion or molestation. How did this escalate from a request for a test to an investigation of a criminal nature? Who made this decision? After considering the evidence, Eva Finne, a female Chief Prosecutor chose to dismiss the charges. The case was then taken up by a politician who was facing re-election and whose motive may be questionable. The matter was taken to a prosecutor in a different city where none of the events had taken place. Why was this done? Was any pressure brought to bear? These are the questions a truly committed investigative journalist should be asking.

The current gist of the accusations against Assange is as follows:

One of the women alleges that Assange had sex with her without a condom when it was her "express wish" that one should be used. The second woman accuses him of having sex with her on 17 August without a condom while she was asleep at her Stockholm home. Assange admits having had consensual sex with both women, but denies any criminal wrongdoing.

These are serious accusations. At this week’s hearing, the Assange defence team made a skeleton 35 page response, focussing on the following points:


  • That the European arrest warrant (EAW) is not valid, because [current Swedish prosecutor Marianne] Ny is not the authorised issuing authority, and it has been sought for an improper purpose – ie "simply in order to question him and without having yet reached a decision on whether or not to prosecute him". This, they argue, would be in contravention of a well-established principle "that mere suspicion should not found a request for extradition".


  • That there has been "abuse of process" as Assange has not had full disclosure of all documents relating to the case, in particular text messages sent by one of the women, in which she allegedly said she was "half asleep" (ie not fully asleep) at the time they had sex, and messages between the two women in which they allegedly spoke of "revenge".


  • That the "conduct" of the Swedish prosecutor amounts to abuse of process. Assange's lawyers cite the fact that the rape allegations were initially dismissed and then reopened by a second prosecutor, that the prosecutor has refused Assange's offers of an interview, and that it has not made documents available to Assange in English. They also cite the leak of part of the prosecution case to the Guardian as "a breach of Mr Assange's fair trial and privacy rights".


  • That the alleged offences would not be considered crimes in the UK, and therefore, they argue, an EAW [arrest warrant] between the two countries would not be valid.


  • That the extradition attempt is politically motivated, and that his trial would be prejudiced because of his political opinions or because, they argue, of his gender.

The full extradition hearing will take place on the 7-8 February, when Assange’s defence team will make their response in greater detail. In the meantime, the treatment of Wikileaks by the mainstream media – and in particular by the Guardian – has not improved. Parts of the Swedish case have been leaked to the Guardian’s Nick Davies, and printed under his byline. ( The Bianca Jagger article cited above has the Davies story link.) In addition, much has been made of this recent widely reported Guardian attack on Wikileaks Basically, the Guardian accused Wikileaks of releasing a cable that allegedly put the life of Zimbabwe political leader Morgan Tsvangirai at risk. “Collateral murder’ was the term employed by the Guardian. It took Salon’s brilliant columnist Glenn Greenwald to point out that the contentious cable had in fact, been released by the Guardian itself, and not by Wikileaks, a point the Guardian has now conceded in this retraction and backdown.

The reasoning involved in the twin assaults on Wikileaks by the Obama administration and the mainstream has been eloquently spelled out by Greenwald, whose coverage of the Wikileaks saga has been essential reading. This recent passage by him is worth quoting in full:

The key point here is that WikiLeaks didn't steal anything. They didn't break any laws. They did what newspapers do every day, what investigative journalism does at its core: expose secret, corrupt actions of those in power. And the attempt to criminalize WikiLeaks is thus nothing less than a full frontal assault on press and Internet freedoms.

That's where this propaganda comes in to play. To justify this assault, the U.S. Government needs to claim that WikiLeaks is somehow distinct from what other press outlets do. So it invents outright falsehoods to do so: unlike newspapers, WikiLeaks indiscriminately dumps diplomatic cables without editorial judgment; unlike newspapers, they refuse to be transparent about their methods (nobody is less transparent about what they do than large newspapers); and now, WikiLeaks endangers people's lives by recklessly publishing a cable which leaves democratic leaders in Zimbabwe vulnerable to attack, even though it wasn't published by them at all, but by The Guardian.

People devoted to a corrupt cause necessarily rely on falsehoods to advance it. And what we're seeing here is not only the government doing that, but The Watchdog Media -- as usual -- serving as its most valuable ally.

This week, I was hoping to finish a piece on the NZ content of the Wikileaks. Cables. That story will now be included in the next edition of Werewolf, due at the end of this month.


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