Australians and our media are failing Julian Assange, writes Sue Stevenson.
ON SOME LEVEL, we all know that our "liberal democracy" is turning into something much creepier and autocratic. Even if we're comfortable enough so that all that power and politics stuff is something we can avoid because it's boring and complicated, the scent of authoritarianism wafts in sideways. It skips mental recognition and positions itself in our limbic system, enlarging our amygdalas even more than Twitter could.
Putting it another way: if we're still leaving it all to the pernicious human clones in Canberra (both major parties are essentially the same), if we're still at the level of "Julian Assange is a terrorist", then we may find ourselves rushing to the supermarket to stock up on toilet paper and packet pasta because of the coronavirus. Or being entirely suspicious and unkind to our neighbours. Or avoiding people of Chinese appearance.
We are terribly fragile and isolated creatures whose society and commons were sold under our feet for profit. Of course we're anxious. But Australia is long overdue for an examination of whether the West is a bounteous promoter of democracy to the world or whether Australia is part of a hideous ideology it likes to call "democracy" at home, which doesn't even exist anymore.
There is no bigger spotlight on the terrifying monster that the West has become than that relating to Julian Assange. And there's no better estimation of where we sit in the scheme of understanding that than what our attitude is towards him.
Here in Australia, despite the plethora of 50-year-old women needing to beg on the streets to supplement their Newstart, we are still relatively comfortable. Sure, we're singed around the edges, traumatised from the destruction of summer fires and the death of so many creatures.
But most of us still have the luxury of turning away from things that are hard or uncomfortable. For those of us who do not yet understand that the Assange case is about us, we can switch off. Funnel ourselves into our apps, our settings and their algorithms keeping comfortably ensconced in reality and more of what we already know.
No longer can we be comfortable in the knowledge that what we need to know will filter down to us.
The middle-class, centrist train line is still the one packed with commuters. There, power remains invisible because the only power that matters is the social kind that we wield amongst each other, the representational kind that says that full diversity will change everything. As if the world is Instagram. As if we're not been massaged and managed like sausage meat down funnels to convince ourselves everything's fine because journalists are all hacks anyway.
It's true that the quality of journalism has declined markedly in recent decades. The internet, and our dislike of paying for news, is part of the reason for that. At the same time, mainstream media has died, congealed upwards so that, worldwide, more billionaires who don't care about you or your freedom are the ones feeding you a worldview they want you to tick off on.
Who of us now haven't had the clanging gong experience of reading in the New York Times or The Guardian or The Age a news report that is so dramatically different from the independent take we've got from independent media or on the blog of an industry insider or a citizen journalist, that we have experienced firsthand the clanging internal disconnect of seeing that what mainstream media leaves out can be all the difference in your position or your ignorance?
It's not surprising that so few Australians are behind Assange that it makes his supporters weep. Where is the voice for him in our media? Where is the understanding of what he has done and the countless ways he is being tortured by the State? Even when he is reported on, his situation isn't really reported on. If you wished to rush, for example, into the arms of Australia's most respected news source, the ABC (still, after all the cuts and ridiculous Murdochian slander), you still won't get a picture on Assange. Because the ABC is not the radical socialist outlet those mindfucked by the Murdoch media tell you it is but the biggest apologist for the State there is.
Take Four Corners, the ABC's flagship of solid journalistic reporting. Its executive producer, Sally Neighbour, retweeted a comment in 2018 that Assange is "Putin's bitch" and everyone knows it. She has since deleted the tweet.
In 2019, in another deleted tweet, she inferred that supporters of Assange are zombies:
The ABC generally lacks people who are willing to examine Washington and the West and the monstrous perversions of power that have been going on for longer than most of us have been alive.
Don't expect that on Four Corners. It is the zombie when it comes to power. It's shown its conformist kowtowing centrist stripes over and over again. You don't need to go any further than Sarah Ferguson's fawning, embarrassing interview in 2016 with Hillary Clinton.
There, Clinton smeared Assange to the heavens and Ferguson said nothing to defend him. A journalist herself, reducing Assange's case down to a bite-sized, identity politics with Hillary Clinton.
Some accommodation could be made for those at the ABC who caved into power's smearing playbook. Smears are used because they work. They work most especially on the types of centrist liberals who think playing in the "idpol" shallow end of the pool is actually doing politics. It should be incumbent on them to retract previous statements and put their support behind him now it's slowly trickling in that Assange and their raid and the future of journalism and an informed public worldwide are linked.
Ex-ABC journalist Helen Razer is holding the space for them to do so on Twitter:
The absolute bottom line of the Assange case, once you get past the smearing tactics, is, as Aussie independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone has stated, quite simple: should journalists be jailed for exposing war crimes?
That's it. If we find ourselves against Assange we need to ask if maybe, possibly, we're just sniffing into the pack of the Australian herd mentality that is willing to allow ourselves more freedoms taken away if only we can continue to keep looking away. Assange is a journalist. His Walkley Award says so. His books say so. His latest award for press freedom from the Consortium for Independent Journalism says so.
And his work exposing the war crimes of Washington, exposing how the CIA can monitor you from your Samsung TV, say so.
We humans have a terrible tendency to shoot the messenger. Someone tells us something uncomfortable about what powerful people are doing and we want to blame the person. Maybe this is why the smearing against Assange worked so well. But it's becoming increasingly harder to evade the evidence, piling up for anyone with the guts to look, that we here in Australia are living inside a monster not composed of democracy, and that we feed it with our continued manufactured consent.
Julian Assange showed us the depths of its depravity. We owe him our support. If there is some cognitive dissonance involved in order to reach that level of support, it is less discomfort than he is experiencing. It is also an educative lesson for us in how easily we can be manipulated without our even knowing it.
Things are too far along now to ignore what's going on. And we are far too social a creature to remain isolated in the face of such abuses of power Assange revealed. Whatever our political persuasion, surely we can agree and band together on that.
You can read more from Sue Stevenson here.
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