Transcript of Julian Assange’s remarks in the ‘Can we trust the media?’ debate, Splendour in the Grass 2013
I feel for the other side, I really do.
Can we trust the media?
That’s the media that has called for me and my staff to be assassinated, droned, rendered and prosecuted? For espionage, for our publications, and our involvement in the Snowden case? Even this year ‘The Wall Street Journal’ and ‘The Washington Post’ have pushed this junk.
Noam Chomsky in ‘The Common Good’ wrote that “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum…”
We live in a media-ocracy. What’s politically possible is defined by the media environment.
In Australia, Murdoch’s News Corporation owns 60% of the mainstream media, one of the worst concentrations of media ownership in the world.
I started WikiLeaks because I understood this reality; the media frame defines the political possibility.
So, to bring about meaningful change, we have to enlarge the media frame. With WikiLeaks we have had significant successes in achieving this in some areas, though more needs to be done. We have to improve the access and quality of media of information to all Australians and to the world.
That’s why we’ve set up the WikiLeaks Party, and that’s why I’m running this year for election to the Australian Senate. And that’s why my colleague, human rights lawyer Kellie Tranter, here today, is also running for the Senate for the WikiLeaks Party.
The title of the debate makes the answer a forgone conclusion.
I count many fine Australian journalists as friends, but we must look at the media with two eyes for its reality, not with one eye for its best.
What do most estate agents, journalists, used car salesmen, drug pushers and people smugglers have in common? You can’t trust them. Only a few are honest, it is the counterexamples that shine.
Joseph Stigletz won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics for examining the economics effects of asymmetry. Like when you start negotiating wages not knowing the wages of anyone around you; or when you haggle over the price for a used car or boat but don’t know whether under the paint it’s just a rust bucket; or when you pick up a newspaper and you read the front page.
Readers are by definition ignorant: We read to quench our ignorance. So readers are in effect easy prey for newspapers and the people that own them. Newspapers have a knowledge advantage, information asymmetry, they know what readers don’t know yet but want to know. And so they can distort the news, or even invent it, and you wont know until say, Iraq is a wasteland and 100,000 are dead or Tony Abbott is elected.
Journalism is an asymmetric information market, just like used car sales or drugs. That is why its products are just as bad. It’s a market where the bad drives out the good, because readers can’t really tell the bad from the good, and it costs a lot more to do good journalism than to do bad.
This is what in economics we call a market for lemons: as in, “damn, suckered into buying a lemon”. Just like some of the interesting products you can buy from strangers from here at Spendour in the Grass, what you ingest is often not what is advertised. But who cares about some shonky market? Well, the media isn’t just some shonky market, it’s part of the most important thing in the world, because the flow of knowledge is what creates the world. Every law, every regulation, every constitution, every human decision that we make, the construction of our entire society, is built from what we believe.
We can’t be better than what we know as individuals, as a people, as a nation.
We live in a mediaocracy, and we will keep electing political lemons because only spin-doctors survive in a market for lemons.
But, all that’s changing.
Why is it that I have 26% of the voting intention nationwide but 40% of the voting intention of people under the age of 30?
While WikiLeaks has made significant inroads into widening the frame for national security journalism, the signal greatest contributor to our expanding horizons is you. You telling your friends what’s up, what you saw, what you believe and whose full of it. Contrasting what appears in the Australian Press to itself and to the world, you form part of the largest bullshit-detecting machine that the world has ever seen. That’s why WikiLeaks has such support from people exposed to the internet. That’s why we have such support in this generation because you’re better informed, this is the best educated generation in the history of the world. It’s as if the used car market was suddenly faced with customers that weren’t plebs but trained mechanics.
But we can do even better, we can use the political system to reform the media system so we can reform the political system even more. We can make every Australia part of that reform.
Yes, of course, you must all join the WikiLeaks Party first and make us win, that goes without saying. Join the Wikileaks Party, don’t be shy. If we don’t govern ourselves, someone else will and as you know they’ll have bad taste.
When elected, we will instigate the following policies to make all Australians content creators and to substantially increase the funding to all Australian journalists.
1. We will oppose any attempts to privatise the ABC and SBS either in part or in full. Tony Abbott denies this is on the Coalition agenda, but as we all know he answers to Rupert Murdoch.
2. We will push for measures to help non-profit media and non-profit news organisations. The print media still dominates the way political information is originated in Australia, even online. But with the exception of Sydney and Melbourne, no other large Australian city, at present, has more than a signal daily newspaper. For a medium-ranking democracy Australia’s 98% of print media circulation being in the hands of just three corporations puts it into a special category all of it’s own, and not a good one. We badly need diversification of the Australian media. To assist this we will make donations to independent media organisations tax-deductible. This was a measure introduced in the United States and there it helped to substantially increase the number of not-for-profit media organisations from Democracy Now to ProPublica.
3. We will revolutionise Australian media and music innovation by establishing an Australian Content Innovation Fund easily accessible to all Australians. A fund that bypasses the inefficient, politicised and bureaucratic traditional funding mechanisms. The model will be based on the successful Australian Public Lending Rights scheme, which grants Australian authors a small fee for every library book borrowed. We will massively expand this program, so that it covers the internet, so that it is accessible to all Australians across all formats and will double the amount returned to Australian authors. We will do this by producing a statistical survey throughout the year to determine the 100,000 most nominated works, authored by Australians across music, journalism, online books, reference works, blogs, videos and other content. Each Australian making the list will be paid dividends from its budget in proportion to the frequency discovered by the survey over the last year, capped to a total of two times the median wage per author. The money will come from a small fee from the defence budget, because projecting popular Australian content to the world makes the world care about the fate of Australians and is a very effective contribution to our defence. We must have a strong defence and that means an efficient, clever and creative defence.
The WikiLeaks Party is serious about bringing hard-hitting scrutiny to Canberra, shaking up Australia’s complacent party oligarchy.
Please use your vote, vote for the WikiLeaks Party.
Oh yeah, and if your wondering about this T-shirt, well, you’ve heard of Kevin Rudd talk about how he’s going to put asylum seekers into Papua New Guinea, well, there’s someone he should speak to first and that person is the leader of the West Papuan resistance, Benny Wenda. Benny Wenda is a fellow red-notice victim, if you like, a red notice warrant, here with me, here in exile in London. 9,000 West Papuans are presently in Papua New Guinea, so before Kevin Rudd dumps Australian asylum seekers into West Papua he ought to speak to Benny Wenda about what it’s like to be driven out by the Indonesians.
Go Benny! and have a good Splendour people.