Julian Assange
Julian Assange on a balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (Image: AAP/Lloyd Jones)

I know you guys remember the detention of journalist Peter Greste, held with Al Jazeera colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahm in Cairo from December 2013. I remember, but perhaps not as well as you. I didn’t know the guy’s name before he was arrested charges of spreading “false news”. This was my fault, and not that of the Australian who had offered the Anglophone world an understanding of a coup that powers in the West would not call a coup. I was dumped that year, so any affairs more foreign than the one the ex was enjoying in Balwyn North were of limited concern.

I suspect that among my media colleagues I was not then the only diplomatic ditz. The “journalism is not a crime” slogan was adopted quickly and ardently by a part of a sector who couldn’t have known the name el-Sisi, much less of his part in the “transition to democracy” that Obama so graciously described. And, that’s OK. You utter it uncritically and often and even when law declares otherwise: journalism is not a crime.

It feels better to say this when the guy not committing a crime happens to be a Peabody Award winner and awfully nice. It is easier to say this from the West when the guy not committing a crime is caught in non-Western codes. I am not suggesting that my fellows are racist; many include “diversity” as an interest on their social media profiles. I am suggesting only that we have a historical tendency to detect injustice in nations that are other to the form of our own. Even Tony Abbott was able to call this criminalisation “bewildering”.  

The collusion. The corruption. The callow way those others behave in the transition to democracy. How embarrassing for them and let them soon evolve. Journalism is not a crime. We would not think to criminalise even the worst of it in the sophisticated West.

Well. We’ll criminalise some of it in the West. The courageous Barrett Brown was in the clink long before Trump was able to find fun new ways to make American journalism a crime again. Turnbull follows. Most everyone in power agrees that sources are no longer sources but dirty, leaking crims. Journalism is not a crime, except when it is practised contrary to the craven example recently set by the ABC, which, per that organisation’s head of investigation, includes divulging a load of identifying details about your source, not publishing much of anything you receive and, above all, not doing “a WikiLeaks”.

WikiLeaks. That’s when my Australian fellows agree: journalism is a crime. Or there’s some crime, somewhere. Maybe it’s the crime of misogyny, a word the Macquarie Dictionary will soon redefine to include the hurt feelings and unused presidential pantsuits of Hillary Clinton.

We will support those journalists of whose work and character we do approve, rather enthusiastically if they are detained in places we do not think of well. An apparently unpleasant WikiLeaks journalist detained in a place we quite fancy? He can rot.

The claim that this journalist is free to leave is not the view of the UN. The claim that this is not journalism is as false as all efforts to contain it. The claim that the journalist was on charges for assault was never true. It was still not true when the investigation of allegations, not charges, were dropped last year. It is, surely, reliably untrue since last week’s revelation that Swedish authorities sought to dismiss the thing more than three years ago.

What may be true is that the guy’s unlikable — Lack of Charm is Not a Crime. What is not verifiable, or suggested by evidence stronger than Hillary Clinton’s troubled face, is that the publication gave an election to Trump, Putin or whoever it is that criminally bad journalists are blaming this week.

What may be interesting to a true journalist is information in a post by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. When Assange sought to have the UK warrant for his arrest withdrawn — itself the remnant of the investigation Sweden sought to drop in 2013 and did drop — it was heard by Judge Emma Arbuthnot, wife of Lord Arbuthnot; a Tory Peer and a former subject of WikiLeaks’ journalism.

When an MP, the Lord James worked in defence and security under prime minister John Major. He currently holds positions with arms and security group Thales and, until quite recently, had a position with SC Security, a group mentioned in the Snowden documents, and founded by a former head of MI6 and some other Lord chappie who was the former independent reviewer of UK terror legislation. It may be that Arbuthnot left his position at SC after the case for the warrant withdrawal was filed. I am unable to confirm. It does seem true that this descendant of some Scottish monarch or other was the captain at Eton and, goodness me, imagine me as Robert Mueller using the word “linked” an awful lot: This chap seems to get about with weapons a bit, what oh. Look into it, Wooster?

There may have been cause, as Varoufakis says, for the Baroness to have recused herself. It is possible that the Baroness had no knowledge of her spouse’s appearance in the publication of the man whose request for withdrawal she denied. It is also possible that her knowledge of WikiLeaks journalism, which tends to the defence and security sectors in which her husband continues to work, was slim. It is possible that someone other than me could bang on abut WikiLeaks and how if you want your freedom cake, you have to eat what’s in it.

It is also possible that we Australians could behave as we did toward journalist Peter Greste and offer support for a journalist in detention. Uncritical support, as it should be. We supported him not because he was brave and good, which he was. We supported him, remember, because j … oh, forget it.