A tale of two Australians

His organisation’s name was on the marquee, but no-one invited him to the party. We understand there was no attempt at all to invite Rupert Murdoch to last week’s Paris conference on The Media World after WikiLeaks and News of the World.

In contrast the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, couldn’t attend the conference, being unable to leave the UK for well-documented reasons.

But his organisation says they only got eight days notice that they could send a representative, circumstances that Wikileaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson characterised as a de facto ban on their participation and “censorship”.

Hrafnsson was particularly exercised by the speaker list, which included several journalists who seem to have crossed Assange in the past.

In fact the principles of transparency and justice that WikiLeaks espouse were well defended by the brilliant Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of the citizen advocacy group La Quadrature du Net. It was left to him to remind everyone that of the two accused organisations, only one does what they do for corporate profit.

Not speaking for Assange, but still supportive, was WikiLeaks’ occasional legal advisor, Geoffrey Robertson QC. (Robertson’s quip of the day, after counting Assange as a “great Australian”, was to say the same of Murdoch, but only “in the sense that Atilla was a great Hun”.)

The end result was a shortlived attempt to stoke outrage on Twitter and what turned out to be an unheeded call to WikiLeaks supporters to #OccupyUNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency that was hosting the event.

The organisers, the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), and UNESCO itself, argued that the conference was about journalism in the wake of the WikiLeaks and News of the World sagas, “and not about the episodes themselves”.

WPFC asserted its right to pick the speakers they liked, but offered to distribute a WikiLeaks statement “and include it in the published conference proceedings”; it was left to UNESCO to invite a WikiLeaks representative a week later.

On the eve of the conference, UNESCO reconfirmed to Index on Censorship that if Hrafnsson wanted to attend, he would be allowed to speak. He didn’t attend. The e-mail trail between Hrafnsson and the organisers is here.

It is odd to call a conference to discuss a media landscape transformed by WikiLeaks and the News of the World, then not invite from the outset, people to speak for the pair that did the transforming.

Most interesting — in what was still a useful event — would have been to hear how the two key actors in the two very different dramas were themselves redefining their own organisations’ roles in their wake.

Murdoch was that very day in London reinventing the News of the World as the Sun on Sunday, while WikiLeaks’ own reinvention, as part of The Global Square, an online global collaboration peer-to-peer platform for activists, is due to prototype next month.