Court artist sketch of Julian Assange (Image: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire)

 A former employee of a Spanish security firm has told Julian Assange’s extradition hearing of a plan to abduct and even poison the Australian as part of a widespread surveillance operation said to have been ordered by an associate of US President Donald Trump.

This revelation, concerning an Australian citizen who is facing 175 years in jail on espionage charges, made it to page 23 of The Sydney Morning Herald.

In The Australian, it was given a small corner on page nine in the world news section, beneath a page of analysis on the first presidential debate.

Yet the story would appear to have everything. Witnesses fearful for their lives alleging a conspiracy, tangentially involving the US president, to poison or kidnap a significant Australian figure.

Reports on the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexander Navalny, allegedly by the Russian government, got higher billing than Assange in the SMH (on top of an opinion piece declaring Navalny a hero).

This is typical of the coverage of the Assange case. You can’t accuse the mainstream media of exactly ignoring the case, but it generally comes “mid-paper” (in print and online). It’s just another thing that’s happening in the world. But isn’t the trial of a Walkley award winner a case about press freedom?

Compare this to the blanket front page coverage that followed the Right to Know campaign, where mainstream media outlets talked about the impediments they themselves regularly encounter on account of national security laws they otherwise cheer on.

This is not exactly surprising from News Corp, which, despite dedicating hundreds of thousands of words to free speech when it concerns 18C or late cartoonist Bill Leak, seems to have decided early on that Assange was bad news.

See for example the sneering coverage of his revelations in Cut and Paste, or the republished Times column saying Assange was at home with despots and crackpots.

What’s more interesting is the muted coverage in the Nine papers. Save a January opinion piece from Bob Carr (who doesn’t have the most consistent approach to this issue either), there appears to have been no word of explicit defence (even in principle) from the papers all year.

Just before the collegiate back-slapping of the Right To Know campaign, Nine responded to his arrest by publishing a piece which insisted Assange is “not a journalist”. 

Which must be news to former journalist Philip Dorling, who, back in 2010, published piece after piece after piece in the then-Fairfax papers all based on the work of WikiLeaks.

If it was good enough for the SMH and The Age back then, what about now?

Has the media betrayed Julian Assange? How do we turn the tide? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section

Peter Fray

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