Monday, February 20, 2012

The Continued Controversy over "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies"

On November 29, a documentary entitled "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies" aired on Channel 4 in the UK. The film promised to be the "definitive account of the 'wiki-saga'," uniting the "major protagonists" and featuring the "first major television interview" with Julian Assange. But the documentary soon became a topic of controversy when WikiLeaks released a press statement commenting on The Guardian’s involvement in the production and providing a list of the incorrect and misleading information presented in the film. The statement also included telephonic and written communications between Julian Assange and the documentary’s director, Patrick Forbes.

Shortly after its original airing, Channel 4 made "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies" available via its online broadcasting channel 4oD, but it has since been removed. The documentary has also not been rerun by Channel 4 since its original air date.

After its initial broadcast, the film seemed to quickly fall into obscurity. It wasn’t until February 14, when ARTE aired the documentary in France and Germany, that the controversy resurfaced.
Holger Stark, Der Spiegel journalist and author of "Staatsfeind WikiLeaks," sent out a series of three tweets commenting on the documentary, shortly after its broadcast on ARTE:

(Note: He also corrected that the dates he listed should be 2010, not 2011.)
This series of tweets is rather important as it attests to Julian Assange's claims of betrayal by the New York Times and The Guardian. In a recent series of video interviews with NYTimes eXaminer, Assange retold the events thusly:
"We had given a copy of Cablegate […] in encrypted formant to The Guardian as safekeeping under a contract. The contact saying that they could not publish anything until we told them to; that they could not share it with anyone else, had to keep it strictly confidential and protect it; and that they could not keep an internet-connected computer system. […] Almost immediately, the brother-in-law of the editor-in-chief took all the material and gave it to the New York Times. […] And even that might not have been so bad if we were told about it. But we weren’t told about it. They conspired in secret to do this and to publish it all without even telling us."
Not only that, but by excluding these plans to publish behind WikiLeaks' back, it further confirms that this documentary is not balanced, but leans heavily in favor of The Guardian. Add this to the exclusion of David Leigh’s publication of the Cablegate password, the nearly 30 minutes of the 73 minute film spent with interviews of Guardian employees (compared to less than 9 minutes of Julian Assange, the only current WikiLeaks staffer interviewed), and the consultation with David Leigh for fact-checking, it’s hard to see "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies" as being the "definitive account" it claims to be.

In further developments, WikiLeaks announced via Twitter that OFCOM, the regulator for broadcasting in the UK, had officially declared a formal investigation into "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies" on February 14. No further information about the investigation has yet to become available.

The documentary is also planned for multiple U.S. screenings. CNBC has the film scheduled for broadcast on March 1. The Austin-based SXSW Film Festival, a huge conference which draws over 20,000 attendees, also plans to air the documentary on March 9. In the summary, the film is described as "a definitive factual account of the WikiLeaks affair." This screening was brought to attention by Bill Keller, well-known for his attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange, in his February 19 article "WikiLeaks, A Postscript."

[Update (04/08/2012): WikiLeaks tweets that the OFCOM investigation is ongoing and that Channel 4 has admitted The Guardian's David Leigh was a secret paid production member.]

This article originally written for The WikiLeaks Forum