On the eve of the one-year anniversary of WikiLeaks' release of more 250,000 U.S. embassy cables, founder Julian Assange assailed mainstream news editors in a speech to an editors conference in Hong Kong charging that, in their quest to advance in their chosen profession, they have become "corrupt."
"We all know what is going on," Assange, addressing the Global Editors Network summit via Skype, said. "Editors are invited to sit at the table of those powerful individuals and the reality is that's why most journalists go into journalism. It is to crawl up the ladder of power to become associated with power, to sit at the same table as those you hold to account.
"Editors become corrupted and they do not hold those very people to account, we know that," Assange, who spoke for 40 minutes, continued. "What is new is that the rest of the world is starting to know it. Not just as a result of reaction to attack by Washington on WikiLeaks, it is starting to know it as a result of there being other forms of publishing, unmediated publishing. There is a crisis of legitimacy within the mainstream press, a rightful crisis of legitimacy."
WikiLeaks released its trove of U.S. embassy cables on Nov. 28, 2010, in a collaboration with five media organizations, including the New York Times and London's Guardian, sparking the U.S. government's outrage and sending Assange--then wanted for questioning in a Swedish sex crimes case--into hiding.
The WikiLeaks organization has since suspended publishing, citing mounting legal costs "fighting an unlawful financial blockade."
"If the press doesn't hold powerful corporations and governments to account then how can a democratic process work?" Assange said. "But the mainstream press has failed in that task and failures are becoming evident and corruption in individual cases are becoming evident . . . . The mainstream press is not able to be its own gatekeeper any more."
Some editors at the conference, however, slapped Assange right back.
"I didn't do this job to crawl up the ladder of the powerful," Sylvie Kauffmann, editorial director of Le Monde, said. "I don't think this accusation stands."
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- Julian Assange