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What Are Wiki Leaks Media Essay

Just when we would have thought that there cannot be any website starting with “W-I-K-I”, which can get more hits than Wikipedia, we almost suddenly had “WikiLeaks”. This website and its content shocked the world, rocked the inner circles of Governments of many countries, and brought to the fore a personality called “Julian Assange”. This hacker, who prefers to be called an ‘Internet Activist’, just showed why being a whistleblower is suddenly a phenomenon which can impact the global political landscape, and more importantly help us identify with the cultural manifestations of every episode that has been posted on the site.

It’s true that Julian’s actions seem amoral and actually reckless in the beginning. But, these, in no way reduce the importance of the information which has been leaked. If the voting population in the West pay heed to these leaks and videos, then, their right to vote can go a long way in making the world, a safer and better place.

Knowing WikiLeaks and Julian Assange

Before, we delve into the lesson that this event teaches us as a student of Cultural Studies, I am writing excerpts from an article published in the TIME, which voted Julian Assange as the Runner-up TIME person of the year 2010, only after Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s important that we read this article from the point of view of understanding WikiLeaks, post which I will discuss how my learning’s in Cultural studies was impacted by the same.

“Julian Assange is an Australian internet activist. He is the spokesperson and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, a site, and known to be the most prolific whistleblower of all times. Previously, he was a computer programmer (read hacker), and also a student of physics and mathematics. He has made many countries his home, time and again and is more of a nomad. He makes physical appearances or posts on WikiLeaks to talk about fundamental rights, and gives ample proof of the wrongdoings of many Governments, US being his favourite whipping boy, on his website.

Assange founded the controversial WikiLeaks website in 2006 and serves on its advisory board. In this capacity, he has received widespread public attention for his role in the release of classified material documenting the involvement of the United States in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On 28 November 2010, WikiLeaks and its five media partners began publishing the United States diplomatic cables leak.

At that time, Mr. Assange also released a video, named Collateral Murder, which showed a U.S. Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians. The video came from within the military. The video showed the US choppers attacking unarmed journalists, killing fifteen including two Reuter’s employees. The video sparked debate over America’s war ethics. Assange, along with his team set up a make shift office in Iceland by renting a house which he called “The Bunker” to prepare, publish, publicize and, most importantly, protect the damning footage.

Four months ago, they began to release millions of documents from diplomatic offices around the world. These documents revealed the point of view of American diplomats to the world. For the first time, the public got to see what goes on behind closed d

On Dec. 9, 2006, an unsolicited e-mail arrived for Daniel Ellsberg, the whistle-blower of Vietnam War renown. The return address said only "WikiLeaks," and the signature at bottom, "WL."

A great deal can be said about Assange, much of it unpleasant. He is inclined to the grandiose. Contempt for nearly every authority drives his work, and unguarded e-mails — leaked, naturally — reveal hopes that transparency will bring "total annihilation of the current U.S. regime." In London, he is fighting extradition to face allegations in Sweden that he sexually assaulted two WikiLeaks supporters.

What no one can say about the man, any longer, is that his boasts are empty. In 2010, WikiLeaks became a revolutionary force, wresting secrets into the public domain on a scale without precedent. Assange and company wrought deep disruptions in the marketplace of state power, much as tech-savvy insurgents before them had disrupted markets in music, film and publishing. The currency of information, scattered to the four corners of the globe, is roiling not only U.S. foreign relations but also the alliances and internal politics of other nations.

WikiLeaks has established itself, too, as a competitor to news media and intelligence agencies. By posting documents in their entirety, the site "disintermediates" the market, as economists say, weakening the old prerogatives of editors and analysts to filter information for their audiences. "This is not just a threat to those who would want to keep their own secrets," says a former member of the site's steering committee, who declined to be named. "WikiLeaks is a threat to those who would like to have other people's secrets too."

(Gellman)

Impact through study of frameworks and theories in cultural studies

All WikiLeaks used was the Lasswell model for communication, and by all means this proved effective for them. Though we must call it an extension of lasswell’s model, considering the hacking part of it, which was information extraction by unethical means.

Using Barker’s concept of critical discourse analysis – I used to believe that cultures and ethnicities are impacted by a host of factors other than language, like perceptions, signs and actions. The latest example being Iraq, which has been ravaged by war and its after effects. Now, the focus is suddenly back on web and language as a solitary form of communication, which has brought to the fore the many irregularities in the functioning of many so called democratic governments across the world. It has especially targeted the US way of functioning and showed almost Fascist glances of the US army in war torn Iraq and Baghdad. The prejudice that I held against the Middle East is gone, and very soon the world may develop a meaner outlook towards the West. Such has been the effect of WikiLeaks leaks, that Barker’s way of doing a critical discourse analysis, makes me focus almost completely on the targets of WikiLeaks, and completely ignore the misgivings, if any, of its founder.

Intertexuality is the starting point, because of the name beginning with ‘Wiki’. By having such a name, Assange, firstly, attracted attention and then, also sent across the message, that this Wiki is meant to show the other side of the coin.

An attempt to do a content analysis clearly shows the intent to highlight confidential information without any changes, and send across the message that transparency is needed to nail corrupt governments. Besides, content analysis finds a way into the way different cultures and their media have responded to these leaks. On one hand, the western media has been tight-lipped or even cynical of this phenomenon, whereas Eastern media has taken cognizance of the wrongdoings of the Government, and focussed more on what WikiLeaks wants to highlight, rather than focusing on its founder Assange.

The other area where WikiLeaks has raised uncomfortable questions is the theory of “Individual vs. state”. How many times is an individual made to believe in catch phrases like “Yes, We Can”, and taken for a ride for his/her vote. The outcomes, as in the case of WikiLeaks, completely shatter our beliefs as an individual. I actually began thinking, about how much control and power should wrest with such Governments, and doubt every motive.

This theory in the context of WikiLeaks does raise the question, if we need a regulator?

The theory of hegemony also comes to the fore. With this essay, I can clearly conclude that the US has perceived a threat to its hegemony, and sees oil control and indiscriminate killings as a way out. No doubt it will succeed partially in this mission, but, the web has brought back hegemony in the hands of we, the people through a phenomenon called ‘WikiLeaks’. Truly, there was no other way to challenge the hegemony of a state which has immense power to hide even the murkiest of crimes, and web combined with hacking (once an evil), has actually acted as the antidote to US policies. No wonder that, in a war of hegemonies and taking controls, Assange has emerged as the sole voice of protest against all this, here, the people are with his ideology and the government is helpless.

Influence on our understanding of Government, media and citizenship due to WikiLeaks

I have included this section to conclude the essay. Clearly, my understanding of the government and its governance has taken an about turn after this episode. If a war was justified on grounds of eliminating terrorists or overturning dictatorial regimes, then how is killing of innocent men, and carrying out blatant violence justified? If this is democracy, then certainly we have seen meanings being changed.

Media could have voluntarily become the regulator, and maintained its end of sanctity and honesty. But, it seems they have always been party to all this. Otherwise, how can we explain that what was in the possession of WikiLeaks, not even a % of that was ever leaked by other media.

In his own words at a Ted conference, Assange replied on being asked, if it feels shameful to have made leaks more than the combined media around the globe: “It is indeed shameful, not for me but for the media, that I alone have to do their job”.

Last, but not the least, citizenship, which is more of a softer word used for identifying with different cultures. I believe, this is ultimately a war of cultural superiority. That’s the reason, why in a quest for oil acquisition, a weaker, no-Western country will be attacked. To establish cultural supremacy, a weaker culture will be annihilated. I believe citizenship is a word reduced to being a man who accepts a particular Government and its wrongdoings, knowingly or otherwise. It makes no sense to rejoice over a Green card, if there are millions losing their lives by the same Government.

I believe, that in the last one month, my understanding of the concepts from the workshop, followed by a secondary research on WikiLeaks on the web, clearly highlights that our perception of democracy, transparency in Governance and such other values needs to be redefined. In fact, my earlier understanding of hackers as a nuisance, also changed when Assange made me discover how, a skill as hacking could be used to expose the misgivings of a government.

Today, WikiLeaks, is fighting a battle to save itself. They have even made an effort to preserve all the hacked documents by providing torrent links to its visitors for download. Assange, is in captivity, and it is certainly justified, if the charges are proved. But, I certainly feel like supporting the cause for which WikiLeaks stood up. I never quite imagined that two modern inventions – Internet and Unethical hacking would combine to question the ethics of Governments, and I really take it as the study of two modern day cultures - Hegemonists and Netizens.

It is fitting to end this essay with quotes by Assange himself:

“You have to start with the truth.

The truth is the only way that we can get anywhere.

Because any decision-making that is based upon lies or ignorance can’t lead to a good conclusion.”

(Assange)

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