Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Simply Staggering

Laughs aplenty, heckling, a man blowing an actual whistle - God, can it get any better than that - and undoubtedly stormy applause at Saturday evening's hot ticket New Statesman/Frontline Julian Assange cult meeting free speech debate. Some 900 people crammed into Kensington Town Hall to have the chance to hear our sleek navy-suited hero and a cluster of other luminaries debate the propostion "This house believes that whistleblowers make the world a safer place."

I love this sort of thing, really I do and not just for the opportunity to see one of the sexiest issues de nos jours given a good workout by some of the greatest champions of free speech ever.

Speaking of which, I'm sure the unfortunate business of Craig Murray, Our once-upon-a-time man in Tashkent, being disinvited from the panel was nothing more than a mix up, just one of those things. Maybe someone better qualified to make the case for whistleblowing suddenly became available. Murray who crowned his dull, uneventful career by revealing that intelligence linking the Islamic Movement for Uzbekistan with Al Qa'eda was gained through torture would have been an adornment to the panel, to be sure but couldn't have brought the same gravitas and relevance to the debate as, say, the delightfully named Clayton Swisher.

It's always important to retain a sense of perspective about these matters. The champagne flute-clinking world of modish media crusades which comes bedecked with demi-mondaines and countercultural brand names is as fickle as any fashion editor; hems go up, hems go down, jetsetting whistleblowers are the new flares of light in our murky world, yesterday's stern critic of a periodical's spinelessness is today's showcased ally.

If Julian Assange isn't minded to allow a pesky little thing like a deleted blog post about controversial Iraqi billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi on the Staggers' website disturb his tranquility why should anyone else?

Back in 2008 Wikileaks editor Julian Assange claimed that

"The New Statesman, in agreeing to Auchi’s terms, would defame him and Wikileaks by implying that the site’s content was inaccurate. In a letter to the New Statesman, Assange warned ‘Our organisation’s reputation for professional, accurate investigative journalism is our primary asset. As both the New Statesman and Wikileaks are globally read publications, we will consider taking action against the New Statesman in the most suitable jurisdiction or jurisdictions.’ Assange said the New Statesman should not be party to what he terms Auchi’s ‘mischief’, pointing out that Wikileaks had never been approached by Auchi or its lawyers about the material it hosted."

But that was three years ago. Hemlines have risen, fallen and risen again since then. A highly regarded political editor may have departed in the wake of the Auchi contretemps but at least now the Staggers can now glory in an edition have been guestedited by a member of the celebrated Puddleduck family. And let's not say a word about NUJ chapels or how much interns are or are not paid.