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Mainstream media undermines enormity of Assange freedom campaign

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Julian Assange arrived home after years of incarceration on Wednesday 26 June (Screenshot via YouTube)

Following the return home of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the mainstream media launched a hate campaign, ignoring the years of hard work to free the journalist. Dr John Jiggens reports.

THE MAN PREVIOUSLY known as prisoner A9379AY departed Belmarsh Prison on Tuesday 25 June and returned to Australia on Wednesday 26 June. The private jet carrying him on his 36-hour flight to Australia touched down in Canberra that night.

As he emerged, incongruously chaperoned by a former prime minister, the cheering and applause of his supporters rang out through the darkness. The TV footage showed him acknowledging his unseen supporters by raising his fist in triumph as he stepped onto Australian soil for the first time in well over a decade.

Waiting to greet him were two people who loved him dearly. Emotionally, he embraced his wife, before hugging his father. The footage of his return and his family’s reunion was on high rotation over the following days. It was a moment that many Australians had hoped to see but thought they never would. For the Government, for the Parliament, for his supporters and for the Australian people, it was mission accomplished.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had been freed!

Over the phone, Assange spoke with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and thanked him for saving his life.

At that time of year when our side of the world is at its darkest, Assange’s aged father said he felt like doing cartwheels.

Assange’s return was judged to be so momentous that the ABC broadcast it live. Led by Sarah Ferguson, David Speers and Peter Hartcher, the ABC coverage was exceptionally toxic, rehashing discredited smears and belittling Assange’s enormous achievements. Like most of the legacy media, many ABC “star” journalists hate Assange.

Host of 7.30, Sarah Ferguson performed her hybrid interview/ambush technique on unsuspecting U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had been lured onto  ABC to speak about why she, one of the most prominent MAGA republicans, supported Julian Assange and why she was urging Donald Trump to pardon Assange.

Not unexpectedly, Ferguson was not very interested in the congresswoman’s views about the honesty and truthfulness of Julian Assange’s journalism. She spent the majority of the interview off-topic, berating Greene over the 2016 theft of Hillary Clinton’s emails, regurgitating Clintonesque lies about Russiagate and sneakily smearing Julian Assange in the process as a Putin-loving servant of that devil Incarnate, Donald Trump.

Marjorie Taylor Greene summed her up perfectly:

“That gal gets her marchin’ orders from the Democrat Party!”

Precisely. Ferguson is a Clinton junkie who declared the Russiagate hoax to be the most important story of the 21st Century. Hillary is her heroine.

Peter Hartcher followed on, explaining why Julian Assange, who has won many of the major English-language awards for journalism, is not a real journalist — like Peter Hartcher. Vanity? Pride? Delusions of grandeur? It was hard to decide. Rounding off the ABC coverage, Liberal Senator Jane Hume warned Australians against treating Julian Assange as a hero.

One Bay FM colleague was so disgusted with the ABC coverage that she turned it off during the Marjorie Taylor Greene interview. But I endured to the end, stoically, pondering which of the two, Hartcher or Ferguson, was the more chunderous.

Compared to the pages of vitriol and venom directed against Assange in The Australian the next day, Hartcher and Ferguson seemed almost benign. Michael Ware and American Justine Rosenthal are two journalists who were described by The Australian as award-winning documentarians.

Their hate-filled rant – ‘Fittingly pathetic end to tawdry tale of a traitor’ – about the plea deal Assange was forced to make to end his ordeal began:

‘Finally, at long last, Julian Assange has confessed to being a traitor.’

What is it about Americans that they don’t comprehend you can’t be a traitor to a country unless you are a citizen of it? It was the extraterritoriality of the Assange prosecution under the U.S. Espionage Act that turned the unlikely duo of MP Barnaby Joyce and former Member George Christensen into Assange defenders.

It is often said that the reason the legacy media hates Julian Assange so much is that it is jealous of Assange’s rock star status. But it is much more than that. Not only did Assange make the MSM look dishonest by reinventing Fourth Estate journalism with WikiLeaks, he challenged the control of the narrative that is the source of the power of the legacy media.

The Assange prosecution was political persecution masquerading as justice, his father, John Shipton, maintains.

The mainstream media was more than complicit, Shipton said:

If the Crown prosecuting service of the United Kingdom, the Swedish Prosecuting Authority of Sweden and the United States Department of Justice had obeyed their own laws, Julian would never have spent a minute in gaol. The extradition treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom specifically forbids extradition for political matters.

 

It was a state political persecution every minute of the day. The bullying, the smearing, was ongoing. Malice, after malice, after malice. The legacy media just writes this stuff and makes it up on the spot. I mean, it was appalling.

Freeing Assange

The freeing of Assange from the clutches of our alleged AUKUS allies – the USA and the UK – was an enormous achievement for Australian diplomacy, the Australian people, the Australian Parliament, the Albanese Government and most of all, the worldwide network of supporters that Julian’s family – John Shipton, his brother, Gabriel Shipton, and his wife, Stella Assange – built over years of campaigning.

Through our interactions with John Shipton at Bay FM in Byron Bay, I gained some awareness of the enormity of his workload and the magnitude of the family’s campaign to free Assange, which entailed building a support network that spanned four continents.

Over the past decade, John Shipton gave us scores of interviews and toured the trendy triangle of Byron, Brisbane and Nimbin at least a dozen times, addressing numerous local gatherings. He did similar tours of the country towns between Melbourne, Sydney and the other capital cities.

Gabriel Shipton produced the documentary, Ithaka, about Assange’s UK prosecution for extradition to the U.S., which was directed by award-winning Australian director Ben Lawrence. The documentary focused on John Shipton and Stella Assange’s activism for Assange. Over 500,000 Australians watched Ithaka on iView.

The family took the film around the world, showing Ithaka in over 100 venues across Australia, the USA, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Brazil and several European countries, informing the world about the Assange case.

Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, invited John and Gabriel Shipton to be guests of honour at Mexico’s National Day celebration in 2023. They shared a table with President Obrador, his wife and the family of Che Guevara. The mayor of Mexico City granted them the keys to Mexico City on Julian’s behalf.

Brazil’s President, Lula Da Silva, in London for the coronation of King Charles, called for Assange’s freedom, saying:

“It is an embarrassment that a journalist who denounced trickery by one state against another is arrested, condemned to die in gaol and we do nothing to free him. It’s a crazy thing. We talk about freedom of expression; the guy is in prison because he denounced wrongdoing. And the press doesn’t do anything in defence of this journalist. I can’t understand it.”  

In April 2023, 99 Brazilian parliamentarians from five political parties signed a letter, addressed to the U.S. Congress, demanding the withdrawal of all charges against Julian Assange. 

One of the powerful institutional voices fighting for Assange was the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Julian Assange, a cross-party group of Australian parliamentarians that was founded in 2019, the year Assange was charged with espionage by the U.S. Department of Justice. The founding members included Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie, Tasmanian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson and George Christensen, reflecting the diversity of support.

The group included people from across the political spectrum, from hard Left to hard Right and everything in between, seemingly the most unlikely bedfellows.

Said Andrew Wilkie:

“It was uncharacteristically activist for a parliamentary group, which is normally more of a place for people just to get together and talk about things. But we campaigned, we travelled, we did what we could to increase political pressure on whichever government was in power to do something.”

In May 2023, a delegation from the parliamentary group met with U.S. ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, and they discussed the possibility of a plea deal. In September, another cross-party delegation flew to the U.S. to speak with senators and congressmen about dropping the charges against Assange.

In February this year, Wilkie moved a motion of support for Assange that was passed in the Australian Parliament by 86 votes to 42, supported by Teals, Independents, the Greens and the ALP, with Bridget Archer the lone supporter from the Coalition. Most of the Coalition voted against the motion, though Barnaby Joyce abstained.

Said Andrew Wilkie:

It was a very significant day because that was the first time in 14 years that the Australian Parliament had backed Julian Assange. And it was the first time that the Government formally, officially, including the PM sitting at the dispatch box, said this had gone on long enough.

 

I don't know why the Opposition didn't back it, because they had that already said as well that it had gone long enough. I think it was probably the reference to U.S. war crimes that they couldn't stomach. Although this matter has evolved over time, I think that motion was a turning point of sorts. And I certainly sense from that point in time, the Government was fair dinkum and that we were approaching the endgame.

Wilkie gives the credit for the successful conclusion of the Assange case to the millions of people around the world and the great many Australians who have been protesting, campaigning and lobbying for years. It was that groundswell of public opinion that put pressure on politicians to get on board, he said. It allowed political support in the Australian Parliament to grow from almost none to the majority of the Parliament saying this has gone on long enough.

Wilkie also praised the diplomacy of Anthony Albanese, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, our High Commissioner in London, Stephen Smith, and our ambassador in Washington, Kevin Rudd, in achieving the deal.

Said Wilkie:

This matter was always, of course, a political issue and the solution was always going to be a political solution. Hence it was so important for the community, people like me and the Parliament, and my colleagues, to ultimately convince the Australian Government, the U.S. Government, and the UK Government that the matter had gone on long enough and had to be brought to an end.

 

What happened this week was a remarkable achievement by the Albanese Government, unfathomably complex. I mean, we're talking about three different national governments, all of whom have very, very different priorities and interests in this matter.

After corralling and torturing Assange for 14 years, the U.S. can easily agree with Albanese that “enough is enough” and Assange (and journalists everywhere) had been taught a sufficiently chilling lesson.

By releasing Assange, the Biden Administration could even pose as champions of journalism and defenders of the First Amendment by dropping the Espionage Act charges against Julian as The Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El País (all WikiLeaks partners in publishing the material) have urged because of the threat it poses to a free press and to all of them.

It also has the additional benefit of lavishing upon Anthony Albanese and his Government an enormous public relations gift: the return of one slightly damaged Australian citizen named Julian Assange.

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist, currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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