Correction:

Last Thursday, Crikey wrote that Melbourne University Press publisher Elisa Berg was temporarily out of the office. That is incorrect, she is currently continuing to work at MUP.

WikiLeaks:

Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “WikiLeaks secretly covering up release errors”  (Friday, item 1). It is highly unfortunate that WikiLeaks has published information that might cost lives, but at least it is scrambling to do what it can to redress the issue. What concerns me more is that the US Government made available to some three million personnel information that, if released, could cause someone’s death. The level of security clearance required to access the cables that been illegally downloaded and provided to WikiLeaks is relatively low.

One would have thought that secret escape routes out of Middle Eastern countries is the sort of information that should be closely held on a need-to-know basis, not something to be spread throughout the vast US Intelligence-Defense establishment on a low-level classification. The US government has the right to expect that those with whom it entrusts its secrets do so, but that doesn’t negate its responsibility to manage the possibility that it has traitors within its midst — something Britain learned to its cost during the Cold War.

My view on this matter is clear: The person responsible for the leak should be held to account for what is prima facie an act of espionage and/or treason. If that person believes they were acting out of some higher noble cause, they should wear the consequences of having broken a legal contract they’d entered into to that required them keeping the information to themselves.

WikiLeaks — as the receiver of the information — should be left alone, just as we would expect any newspaper to not be punished for receiving leaked information. By all means, seek to appeal to Assange’s better nature and try to have the most sensitive material kept secret: Seek legal injunctions to prevent its release, etc, but stop this frankly disturbing and Orwellian campaign against the man.

Peter Kemp writes: When I was quite young my father who headed a NSW government department of about 20 people submitted annual staff appraisals. At some stage the rules were changed and appraisals had to be sighted by the person concerned. Until he retired my father never wrote another stall appraisal. Later, I had to complete staff appraisals and being military I could not avoid the duty. I was extremely uncomfortable when interviewing my troops even though the appraisals were largely tick the box affairs. I believed my father to be entirely correct in feeling that appraisals should not be shown to the subject.

Many years later I worked for a supervisor who was entirely comfortable telling anyone exactly what he thought them including those above him but he would defend his men if required regardless of any consequences to himself. I must also say that he always did his best to implement company policy even if it was unpopular, he did not himself approve or both.

Everyone that worked for this man would follow him to the ends of the earth and I came to realise that secrecy was often not required but there is a desperate need for people of integrity who knew when to say nothing and otherwise say what they really thought without fear or favour. I can see that governments need to keep some secrets but they must be responsible for keeping them secret. Most of the WikiLeaks material only reveals the world as it really is and might conceivably encourage politicians with integrity.

Harold Thornton writes: Justin Pettizini (Friday, comments) worries that WikiLeaks has breached copyright in distributing copies of US government cables. This is not correct. As was established in the Pentagon Papers case among others, US government records are not subject to copyright, since they are public documents.

The words of Justice Black in that case deserve repetition:

“Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.”

Perhaps it’s guilt about failing in their paramount responsibility that has led to such rage about WikiLeaks in the mainstream media commentariat.

Peter Fray

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