On the same day that British authorities arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on an Interpol warrant, the US State Department announced it would be hosting the United Nation’s “World Press Freedom Day” next year.
While Assange’s arrest stems from accusations of sexual impropriety during his stay in Sweden, many observers can’t help but notice that the State Department has been among the harshest critics of the WikiLeaks release — after all, it was State’s cables that were leaked.
“This disclosure is not just an attack on America — it’s an attack on the international community,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week.
But in the State Department’s announcement of World Press Freedom Day, there’s no mention of WikiLeaks and the profound debate it has sparked about press freedoms and freedom of information in the digital age.
“New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression,” State Department Public Relations Sec. Philip Crowley says in the statement.
“At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age,” he continues.
Next year’s World Press Freedom Day will take place May 3 with a ceremony in Washington, DC, that will award the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to “a person, organization or institution that has notably contributed to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom, especially where risks have been undertaken.”
It’s unlikely that Assange will be awarded the prize.
Not everyone sees irony in the timing of the State Department’s announcement.
“It’s not ironic for the United States to host World Press Freedom Day!” Alexandra Petri exclaimed on her Washington Post blog. “It’s not even incongruous! We aren’t North Korea or China — or even Great Britain, where Liberace sued someone who described him as ‘fruit-flavored’ in an article and won! We are the United States, where Freedom of the Press is embedded in our way of life, enshrined in the First Amendment! I’m glad that everyone on Twitter is constantly vigilant, lest we suddenly become 1984; but we aren’t there yet. Nor are we close.”
Though Petri admits that “the timing of the announcement, on the day of the Assange arrest in the United Kingdom for crimes allegedly committed in Sweden, was inopportune.”
In the wake of the latest WikiLeaks releases, numerous prominent officials and pundits in the US and around the world have called for Assange to be prosecuted, and some have even called for his assassination.
Ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote that Assange should be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”
A former adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is being investigated for urging Assange’s assassination.
And the Washington Times ran an editoral titled “Assassinate Assange,” though the paper appears to have softened its stance; the online version turned the appeal into a question: “Assassinate Assange?”