Julian Assange at the Union 
Staying on Script

Andrea Alarcon reports from the Oxford Union, as controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange talks Hollywood, truth and the future of the Internet

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, leaving Royal Court of Justice on July 13th, 2011. Photo by acidpolly via Flckr. Used under Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, leaving Royal Court of Justice on July 13th, 2011. Photo by acidpolly via Flckr.

The latest acquisition to WikiLeaks is not an intelligence report from the CIA or lists of drone killings by the United States government. The site has just obtained the script to “The Fifth Estate”, a DreamWorks film about Julian Assange and his whistleblowing site.

“It is a massive propaganda attack”, said Assange during his conference at the Oxford Union on Wednesday evening, via videolink from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Assange recalled a few scenes from the film, including the opening scene which features a shot from inside a military complex in Iran where nuclear symbols are visible, insinuating that the country was building a nuclear weapon. “How is it that such a lie has made it all the way to a Hollywood script?” he said. “How does this have anything to do with us?”

Assange has made headlines across the world by exposing government misconduct. WikiLeaks, under Assange’s leadership, has published innumerable classified diplomatic cables and played a crucial role in shaping the international political landscape.

During his speech in this Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence award ceremony, which he received himself in 2010, Assange denounced the movie as libellous and linked the phenomenon to the mainstream media perpetuation of state-made lies. “You have to understand that everything you ever hear and see is done with a purpose”, he said. Assange denounced journalists for becoming comfortable with the “big powers”, and regurgitating what the government tells them.

He spoke fervently for freedom of speech and against censorship. He called the Internet the “primary tool for emancipation” and said that there could indeed be things that ought to remain secret, but that over-secrecy “breeds corruption”.

Yet the WikiLeaks founder did not find as supportive a public in the Oxford Union as he might have expected, as evidenced by the hard questions he received during the Q&A session.

“Sweden is a free country with an independent judiciary. Why do you resist being questioned in that country?” asked Richard Wilkinson, an MSc student in the Social Science of the Internet, in reference to Assange’s reluctance to leave the Ecuadorian embassy and return to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. “I have answered these questions extensively in the past”, responded Assange with indignation and almost indifference, referring to the website justice4assange.com.

Approximately 50 protesters stood outside the building protesting the Union’s decision to bring Assange as a speaker. A great majority of the protesters were women, contrasting with the mostly male line waiting to enter the debate room. Simone Webb, the protest organiser, told the Guardian that the demonstration was not a stand against free speech:

“The motivation for this protest is twofold. Primarily that Assange’s continued evasion of justice makes it hugely ironic that he’s speaking at an awards ceremony about truth, justice, integrity and courage. And, secondly, protesting to challenge the marginalisation of rape allegations in society as a whole and also by the union in particular.”

In spite of the controversy and the occasional technical difficulty, Assange ended his speech with a note of Internet optimism. “For the first time in history, it’s possible for one person with a piece of truth to speak to thousands who ignore it”, he said. “The Internet is the great antidote.”

He affirmed that young people are more “sophisticated” and “international” thanks to the Internet, that the web is indeed changing the way people will operate, and that all the new intelligence officers who will begin their careers in the CIA or FBI will have grown up with it.

“It is up to decent people still working inside of government agencies who are witness to this behaviour to make it public”, he said. “It will be second nature to them [young people]; they are going to be inside all of these agencies, and they can act. It’s a pre-revolutionary movement.”