Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) compiles a list of journalists jailed throughout the world. It calls attention to authoritarian leaders in countries like China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, who flagrantly clamp down on reporters critical of their governments.
But the highly respected press freedom organization, which is based in New York City, excluded a journalist who is in jail as a result of President Donald Trump, an authoritarian leader in the United States. They did not include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Assange is in prison at Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh in the United Kingdom. He faces 18 charges and 17 of the counts accuse him of violating the Espionage Act when he engaged in journalism.
Anticipating a backlash to the exclusion, CPJ deputy executive director Robert Mahoney wrote an article reiterating the organization’s position that the case against Assange poses a threat to press freedom. But they maintained Assange is not a journalist.
“After extensive research and consideration, CPJ chose not to list Assange as a journalist, in part because his role has just as often been as a source and because WikiLeaks does not generally perform as a news outlet with an editorial process,” Mahoney declared.
Shadowproof contacted CPJ with questions for anyone at the organization who could answer.
What did this “extensive research” involve? Was it part of the same process that is employed for all journalists who are considered for inclusion on this annual list?
If the “editorial process” is a process that involves shepherding content until it is published, how does CPJ view the document-vetting process by which WikiLeaks authenticates whether documents are authentic or forged? Is that not a standard editorial process?
Is CPJ aware that Assange received the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2011, following the work WikiLeaks did publishing documents from Chelsea Manning? This is work that the United States Justice Department criminalizes with their prosecution against Assange.
Are there any concerns within CPJ that prosecutors in the Trump Justice Department may now cite CPJ to further justify extraditing and prosecuting Assange?
A CPJ press person indicated no one was immediately available December 11 or the morning of December 12 to further address why Assange was excluded.
Assange possesses two press cards. He has an International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) press card. Since 2010, he also has been a member of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), a trade union in Australia.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ methodology, Assange is a journalist.
“CPJ defines journalists as people who cover news or comment on public affairs through any media — including in print, in photographs, on radio, on television, and online.”
Assange routinely appeared on news programs and commented on “public affairs” prior to his arrest.
Over at Medium, Shadowproof managing editor Kevin Gosztola further outlined facts that indicate Assange is a journalist. He showed why CPJ should reconsider their decision to exclude the jailed WikiLeaks founder. Read the article.