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Coral Pereda, a student from IE University’s Bachelor in Communication, interviews Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Freedom of Speech & Communication History at IE University, on the issues of public interest, journalism and government control surrounding the controversy created by the release of the Wikileaks documents.

1.To what extent do you think the cables released by Wikileaks are of public interest?

There are documents that were prior to the cables release, there were documents dealing with the warlogs in Afghanistan, the warlogs in Iraq and the cables. The documents from the warlogs are of public interest because we get a greater picture of how many civilian casualties were in both in Iraq and Afghanistan which has not been fully transparent and fully disclosed by the US government . In terms of the cables, it is in public interest in the sense that the public gets to learn how the US government functions. You can say those are public goods.

2.Do you think the information could have ever threatened national security?

The critics who argue that it is not a public good would say that it is a threat to national security particularly to American national security as well as security about the Heads of States that the cables discuss. In terms of revealing how the US conducts intelligence or diplomacy the critics would argue that it hurts America’s War on Terror. Other critics would say that the documents reveal scandalous material about the government in Tunisia and perhaps that was one of the factors that lead to the revolts. Even now Wikicables about the government of Egypt are being faxed into Egypt. In this case the information is becoming a tool of revolution. Again, it depends on your perspective. For the national security elites, whether it is in Egypt,Tunisia and the US, it is a threat. But in the case of the protesters the information is transparency. It is a public good for them.

3.How do you think Wikileaks will affect the world of journalism in the future?

Wikileaks will not affect the world of journalism because journalism has always been based on reliable sources, varying the source and seeing if the source is reliable.  And this is not new. You have always had journalism as a tool of government: if someone wants to undermine an opponent, if there’s a story which has to be released, government officials have always done so. Wikileaks is not affecting journalism . What was different was the sheer volume. There was just so much material. What was different was that new technology allowed so much material to be transferred to an USB drive. But journalism has always been searching for sources to get those stories to check on government power.

4.Do you think the organization attempts to criticize what journalism has become in the past years?

No, in fact Wikileaks says “we are a journalistic organization, we are a scientific journalist organization” in the sense that we just give our readers raw data. Julian Assange has criticized the NYT journalists for writing stories about him. But the thing is he can’t have it both ways.  He wants transparency in the US government but the journalist’s job is to always search for the story. They have responsibility to search for the story about Julian Assange as well. But that’s the only critique. Otherwise Wikileaks is now trying to sell itself as a scientific journalist outlet. Read more…