Do the hopes of two nations hinge on Haifa clash?

Following tremendous starts that have seen both sides go unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying so far, Israel welcome Wales to Haifa on Saturday in what is rightly being labelled the biggest game of the group to date.

Wales manager Chris Coleman labelled this game as Wales’ biggest since their Euro 2004 playoff with Russia, which the Welsh lost 1-0 on aggregate over two legs.

At the squad announcement last week, Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

The History

Anyone who knows the history of the Welsh national side knows not to get ahead of themselves too much because, like against Russia, or against Romania or Scotland in years gone by, it can all go so wrong so quickly.

Confidence in Welsh football right now is at it’s highest since that 2004 campaign and some have argued that there are striking similarities between now and then.

On both occasions, Wales went undefeated in the opening four games as well as securing perhaps unlikely results both home and away in both campaigns, in this campaign’s case perhaps the two 0-0 draws and in 2004’s case the Italy/Finland wins.

Perhaps what is fuelling Wales’ fans pessimism, or will at least be at the back of their minds, is what happened after the opening four games of Euro 2004 qualifying (Wales didn’t win another game in that campaign).

Old habits die hard

Two problems Wales have had over the years, both interlinked in previous campaigns, are an abundance of injuries and a lack of commitment.

For the first time this campaign, Wales have a (more or less) full strength squad to choose from as they go into this international clash against Israel.

Earlier in the campaign, Wales were rocked by over a dozen injuries as they faced Bosnia and Cyprus in a double header at the Cardiff City Stadium.

This time there is just a handful of injuries to worry about, something that leaves Chris Coleman with a nice selection headache for once in midfield.

Despite the fact that Jonny Williams is still out, Chris Coleman has to decide if he plays all three of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley and Joe Allen in midfield, and in what system if so.

Wales have played a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 this campaign. No-one is expecting to see the former again as that was a system catered for Bosnia so if the three are to play in a 4-2-3-1 do we see Ramsey at number 10 with the other two sitting deep, and if so can he fulfil that role?

I think he can. Former FAW Head of Youth Development Chris Whitley described Ramsey to me as someone who ‘wants to take the corners and head them in’ so his commitment is beyond question.

He has the creativity to play in that role and, whilst some have said his performances for Wales recently haven’t been up to scratch, shifting him to 10 could change that.

On the commitment front, Ashley Williams is the perfect example of why those issues are now a thing firmly in Welsh national football’s past.

He will earn his fiftieth cap on Saturday, in only the 57th Wales fixture since his debut, so an amazing show of commitment from the Swansea City skipper.

Joe Allen, who knows the centre-back very well from their time playing alongside each other at Swansea City, said that Williams’ commitment is his most impressive trait:

‘Ash has been a fantastic influence on me, at club and international level. I think the commitment and the drive he has to succeed is brilliant and rubs off on the entire squad.’

James Chester won’t partner him at the back as Coleman left him out of the squad due to Chester’s longstanding shoulder injury but a Williams-Collins combination is a good alternative.

Coleman said: ‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley.’

Bale Bother

For all of the criticism being levied at Gareth Bale in Spain at the moment, whether you think it is justified or not, his commitment for Wales cannot be questioned.

Chris Coleman commented in this regard: ‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

Wales left-back Neil Taylor reaffirmed the views of his manager and added that, despite the criticism, Bale isn’t taking any notice of it and is just enjoying his football:

‘I don’t know if playing here is a release for him, you’d have to ask him, but all I know is that he looks like he is enjoying his football.

‘He’s fit and ready, like everyone, he turns up for every trip and always gives his best so you can see how much he wants it as a Welshman.’

Whatever is being said, his talent is undeniable. The criticism and the car-bashing in Spain is too far. Sure he can improve but who can’t? If he scores the winner against Israel but has an awful game otherwise, which of those two facts would people remember more?

Israel’s Monsterous midfield

A bit if research will tell you that, although they aren’t doing it in the English Premier League or in La Liga, Israel’s midfield are more than competent goal-scorers!

Biharis Nacho, Eran Zahavi and Lios Refaelov have all scored tonnes of goals domestically this season – Zahavi has managed to get 25 on his own – and Damari up front is joint-top-scorer with Danny Welbeck in qualifying so far on five goals.

Israeli journalist Raphael Gellar told me of his confidence going into these fixtures: ‘It is a very good time for Israel. I expect us to beat Wales and hopefully get a point from Belgium.

However Gellar was realistic regarding the run Israel have had to get to this point in the group: ‘If we can get 3-4 points from the next two matches, I will be impressed.

‘I am not surprised we are doing well but at the same the only tough team we played is Bosnia (and arguably Cyprus) but Bosnia had several injured players and they didn’t support their manager.’

They’re no slouches on the defensive end either; when Israel played Portugal in the last campaign, they completely shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, so could they do the same with Bale?

What is clear is that this is a huge game for both teams – if Wales lose, does the memory of previous campaigns come back to haunt them? Will it be too big a task to pick the players up for the next game, which is at home to Belgium in June?

For Israel, this game is the first of a double-header that will decide what they’re fighting for in the group. If they lose to Wales, can the manager pick them up for a game three days later against Belgium,  one of the best international teams in football?

So much is on the line in this one for both sides – as a Welshman I will obviously be backing Coleman and the guys but Wales are absolutely going to be up against it in this one.

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‘Gareth should stay where he is’, says Coleman

Chris Coleman has given his thoughts on the current criticism surrounding Wales talisman Gareth Bale saying he thinks the Real Madrid star should stay put, amidst speculation of a move back to England.

Bale has been labelled as lazy and a ball hog this season, but speaking after Wales’ squad announcement yesterday for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Israel in, Coleman said:

“He’s the most expensive player in the world, I think he’s been caught up in a bit of a storm but knowing Gareth I’d be really surprised if he turned around and said he’d had enough and wanted to leave.

“He’s good enough to win the big trophies and play on the biggest stage with one of the biggest clubs and Real Madrid fit that bill,” He added.

It is well known that winning isn’t enough at Real Madrid as fans, board members and the media always expect them to not only win, but to do it convincingly and entertain in the process.

Coleman acknowledges this: ‘They’re different to Chelsea because although the pressure is on to perform every game, it is almost like a show when watching Madrid, there has to be entertainment.

‘Although they lost to Schalke they still got through but that isn’t good enough at Madrid. You can’t just win one or two nil, you have to win by more than that and entertain at the same time.’

After a 22-match winning streak that saw Madrid trail-blaze their way to the top of La Liga, their momentum has taken a serious hit recently and they’ve been criticised a lot as a result.

The Wales manager said: ‘Because it is Real Madrid and they are who they are if you’re not top of the league and banging in the goals every game then the fans aren’t going to be happy.

‘If you look at what has been said it is quite a personal attack on Bale – you can’t say they’ve not done as well in two or three games because of Gareth Bale’s performance, that just isn’t correct.’

The ex-Fulham manager feels that the criticism being levied at Bale is a bit too personal, and unfair given the tempo of the league and the work-rate of some of his Madrid teammates:

‘It is getting personal but lazy is the one word I wouldn’t use for Gareth Bale. He’s always up there far up beyond anyone else in his sprinting. I hope his tenure at Madrid doesn’t become untenable.

‘La Liga is different to the Premier League, the tempo is different, England is much less forgiving but he’s in better shape for us now as a result of him being there, playing twice, three times a week.

‘He does a lot of work Gareth, a lot of running and that’s his game when he gets the ball he’s off. I watch every Madrid game and you don’t often see Ronaldo, Benzema or Isco running back.’

Despite the criticism being thrown his way, Bale isn’t having any issues according to Coleman: ‘I spoke to his agent a few days ago and there’s absolutely no issues with him, he’s fine’

Bale has been praised this season whilst donning the Wales shirt for developing leadership qualities that have benefitted the Wales squad; Coleman says Bale loves the group ethic that has developed:

‘When he comes with us, it’s us, it’s a group thing and that’s our strength – he likes it. When he goes to Haifa next week he could have a bad game, but he could score a goal that wins us the match.

‘What he does do is he works hard for us and he fits into the system, whether we play him down the middle, out wide, at 9 or at 10, he knows wherever he plays it is to get to where we need to go.’

In spite of all the criticism, Coleman is adamant that Bale will have his mind firmly focussed on the task at hand when he joins up with the Wales squad next week and that reaching Euro 2016 is his aim.

‘The goal is to get enough points to go to France and that’s where he wants to be, that’s where he belongs at a tournament as one of the best players in football so I’m not worried when he joins us.’

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a chance, a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

 

Vokes returns to squad for Wales’ ‘biggest game in 12 years’

Following a terrific start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman this morning announced his Wales squad for what he is calling Wales’ biggest game since 2003.

Back then, Wales faced a two-legged Euro 2004 playoff against Russia to uplift for the final tournament but lost out, losing 1-0 on aggregate.

Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

No Chester

The squad contained all of the usual names, as well as the returning Sam Vokes and Simon Church but there was no place for James Chester who has missed a lot of time with a shoulder injury.

There had been speculation as to whether or not Chester would be included as he is expected to make a return this weekend against Chelsea but Coleman was very dismissive of the possibility.

‘I don’t think he’ll play this weekend. You never know but speaking to James last week I can’t see him playing, and even so he’s been out a long time.

‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors usually say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley (Williams).’

Big 50th

Ashley Williams is expected to win his 50th cap for Wales in the game against Israel and Coleman was full of praise for his skipper.

’50 caps – it was inevitable really for him – he’s a great captain and great leader and what better game to get his 50th in?

‘Ashley’s been in the real world; he didn’t start at a top Premier League academy or anything – he saw what life is really like.

‘He respects and cherishes every game he plays – that’s why he doesn’t miss games – he loves his job.’

The Wales manager also noted how he expects many more players to break the 50 and, hopefully, 100 cap barriers for Wales in the coming years.

‘We don’t have any players with over 100 caps. Of course we don’t get regular tournament football but still.

‘Ash could do it and get 100 but so could Chris Gunter – 57 caps is a very impressive return but we’re trying to push them to as many caps as we can.’

Vokes Return

Coleman thinks Sam Vokes, who has made a comeback from injury in recent weeks, adds something to the squad that they haven’t had before.

‘A few times we’ve created scenarios in the games where we’re getting balls into the box that would’ve been ideal for Sam so it is great to have him back.

‘Watching him come back into the fray, it is clear he isn’t 100% but he’s two or three weeks away and, most importantly, back playing football.’

The former Fulham manager also praised Burnley for the way they have handled Vokes in his return from the long injury layoff.

‘Dyche has managed it in the correct way. Some managers might’ve pushed Sam back into the team quicker if they were in the position Burnley were in earlier in the season but he’s handled Sam really well.’

Bale Criticism

Israel’s manager recently made comments  saying Bale was saving himself for Wales amidst criticism of his form for Real Madrid. Coleman jokingly responded: ‘If he is then it is great for me!’

He added ‘When you play for Real Madrid, winning is not enough – you have to entertain too! Gareth’s a big boy and he’ll come through this no problem.’

Reporters asked Coleman whether or not the comments were mind games designed to unsettle Bale further. Coleman simply responded saying it showed Bale is on their minds:

‘I think they’ll be thinking about him – I would be! Most teams would be looking at him – whether he’s on form or not he can turn a game on its head.

‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘I’ve never been one for mind games. I’d rather get down to business when the whistle blows and see what we can do.’

The Wales squad fly out to Tel Aviv late next week ahead of their qualifier in Haifa on Saturday the 28th; the game kicks off at 5pm on Sky Sports 5.

Bangor City Football Club looking to trial safe standing next season

The Football Supporters Federation and the Safe Standing Roadshow gave an exhibition at Bangor City Football Club today that could shape the future of how spectators watch the game in Wales.

The Citizens welcomed the exhibition to Nantporth Stadium today as supporters, politicians and a number of people from the club’s hierarchy made the trip to see what was on offer to the club.

The focal point of the day was a demonstration of a new innovation called rail seats, which enable football stands to be converted from seating areas to standing areas with the turn of a key.

Rail seats, which are very popular in Germany are more durable and more compact than the plastic seats you’ll find at football grounds across Britain and meet all of the necessary safety regulations.

Safe Standing Roadshow representative Jon Darch demonstrated the product today and was adamant that whichever club used rail seats first would see a massive increase in media attention.

He said: ‘What I feel is that I’m very excited Bangor City seem so keen to be the very first club in the UK to install rail seats. If they are to do that, the media coverage they get will be out of this world,

‘All of these people will be here again but so will Sky, The BBC, ITV, all the papers – everyone will be here – there will be coverage for whoever it is and that coverage will be a huge benefit to any club.’

Bangor City FC Chairman Dilwyn Jones expressed his satisfaction with the exhibition and gave brief details with regards to when Bangor City fans might be able to expect this innovation at Nantporth.

‘Things have been moving very, very quickly since we moved to Nantporth with the 3G pitch finished now, and we’re hoping to have this safe-standing project done over the summer.’ He said.

Jones also outlined how the move to increase Nantporth’s capacity might be necessary sooner or later anyway due to the European footballing body’s regulations with regards to stadium capacities:

“We can hold around 1100 right now but we need 1500 by 2016/17 because at the moment the FAW are getting special dispensation from UEFA to reduce their regulations to 1000 seats,

‘One day UEFA are going to stop being so generous and we’re going to suffer for it if we haven’t sorted it out because we will have been benefiting from that dispensation for a long time.

Mr Jones made it clear that the club’s intentions are to have one stand prepared over the summer, but admitted that the stumbling block of another stand being built the following summer is funding:

‘It’s all down to funding, whether or not we do one side this summer and one side next summer. Grants are a struggle because stands don’t have a community benefit.’

Alun Pugh, former Welsh Assembly Sports Minister and current Welsh Labour candidate for Arfon was pleased but said if he were still Sports Minister he would want to be reassured of its safety.

He said: ‘Naturally, I would want to be convinced on the safety of this, especially since obviously we’re meeting in the week of when the Hillsborough inquest is taking place.

‘The presentation was a very powerful one and certainly the Bundesliga in Germany don’t take risks with the safety of their fans, where this system works, so yes I would like to see this made available.’

Mr Darch understood the comparisons with Hillsborough but said that its difficult to compare the two scenarios as where in some ways there may be links, in others there definitely aren’t:

‘It’s a new product – it is the introduction of a brand new form of standing which is a lot safer. I know in many ways Hillsborough and this are linked but in other ways they aren’t linked at all.

‘Clearly Hillsborough was failings of stadium maintenance and crowd management; not the fact that they were going into a standing area. People link the two things but in reality there is really no link.’

For more information on the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Safe Standing Campaign, click here and for more information on Bangor City Football Club you can find that here!

 

‘Wylfa development is not a black and white issue’, says Rhun ap Iorwerth

Following the People Against Wylfa B (PAWB) protest conducted on the Menai Bridge yesterday, Rhun ap Iorwerth says he ‘completely understands the concerns about the Wylfa Development’.

Four years on from the Fukushima disaster in Japan, peaceful protesters gathered on the Menai Bridge to voice their concerns about the oft-criticised development proposal.

Protesters gathered during rush hour traffic, some dressed in anti-radiation suits, to voice their concerns regarding the potential development and the dangers of nuclear energy in general.

Rhun ap Iorwerth said: ‘I have always said that it is not a black and white issue, it is not all bad, it is not all good – it is somewhere in the middle where people have genuine concerns.

‘On balance I think people support the economic potential of Wylfa but I think it is vitally important that people who have deep concerns are allowed to voice those concerns and are listened to.’

The proposed development came under more scrutiny recently after the current plant shut down its reactor to investigate a fault. Mr ap Iorwerth said the development could happen, but barriers need to be overcome.

‘It seems at this point in time that it could well happen but there are lots of barriers in terms of funding that need to be overcome in order to make it happen.

‘The fact that there will always be risks whether it happens or not means that we have to keep on driving other elements of the local economy and continue to look at opportunities through renewables.’

A lot of preparation work will need to be done between now and when the development takes place, if it is to go ahead at all, but Mr ap Iorwerth is sure he is up to the task of doing so.

‘I will keep on pushing in the meantime to ensure that as preparations are made for Wylfa we ensure that job opportunities for local young people are maximised.

‘We will look after our communities at the time of the development if it goes ahead. The Wylfa project brings opportunities and threats; it is my job to ensure that we look at it in its entirety and look after the benefits of Anglesey.’

Mr ap Iorwerth admitted that one of the ideas on the table with regards to renewables is a proposal for a third bridge across the Menai Strait, combined with a turbine to harness power.

Although the former journalist was keen to outline that this is nothing more than an idea on the table at the moment, he said he believes a third bridge would be necessary eventually.

‘The idea certainly hasn’t been progressed in any way but we need to look at opportunities, not so much if, but when a third bridge comes because we will need another bridge at some point in time.’

‘It is a matter I have discussed myself but it is very much just an idea at this stage, an idea that is on the table. If we can be innovative in the use of the bridge then we should do it.’

You can follow Rhun ap Iorwerth on Twitter here and find his comments on the Team GB proposal here.

 

Anglesey Assembly Member strongly opposes Team GB Proposal

Rhun ap Iorwerth today criticised the English FA’s attempts to form a Team GB football team for the 2016 Olympics as something that ‘threatens the independence of our FAs’.

The GB football team at the 2012 Olympics was pitched as a one off, but still caused outrage as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland saw the move as a threat to their independent status.

The emergence of a possible team for 2016 has seen the FA come under fire for organising the proposal with the British Olympic Association without the consent of the other three nations.

Rhun ap Iorweth expressed his disappointment with The FA’s actions: ‘I am disappointed the English FA would do this. We were told at the 2012 Olympics that a Team GB football team was a one off.

‘The FAW and SFA made it quite clear in 2012 that they were opposed to it but here the English FA are now going into 2016 and surprise, surprise they want a Team GB again.’

FAW President Trefor Lloyd Hughes added: ‘The BOA should be more open and transparent. It’s supposed to be the British Olympic Association not the English Olympic Association.

‘I am absolutely gutted with the English FA. If they want to work with us they have to be more open with us and they don’t seem to be keeping to agreements. I’m livid about it.’

Mr ap Iorwerth noted that although assurances have been given by FIFA that joining forces for the Olympics wouldn’t threaten each country’s status, the implications of a GB Team are huge.

‘This taps into a much bigger debate about national identity. We have a great, longstanding tradition of our teams playing independently of each other and against each other. ‘Frankly I think we should make sure we aren’t in a position where we undermine in anyway the integrity or the independence of our own football associations,’ He added.

The ex-journalist said that as well as the discussions that are known to be on-going between the home nations now on this matter, the public and politicians have a role to play in proceedings.

‘Politicians have a role because at the end of the day some of us are football fans and if we can use our platform to bring attention to the issue and help in any way then we have a responsibility to do so.’

The reaction to this issue in Wales particularly has been very anti-Team-GB, as many high-profile figures have criticised the proposal, but some have used the British and Irish Lions as an example of how this could work.

Mr ap Iorweth acknowledges that point but outlines the key differences: ‘I support the British and Irish Lions but the situation is totally different as there is a lot more respect to each country.

‘You only have to look at the badge to see that – each country is fairly represented. As well as that, it is a specialised tournament that is played every four years and selects players from each nation.’

The Plaid Cymru AM also referred to home nation cricket teams as an example of the disrespect that Wales could receive if it were to become part of a Team GB.

Having noted on his Twitter feed that he felt Wales could’ve qualified for the group stages of the Cricket World Cup, Mr ap Iorwerth said to me: ‘The situation regarding cricket is quite disrespectful to Wales I think.

‘What is officially abbreviated to ECB is actually the Wales and England Cricket board, and when the team plays they are only referred to as England which is totally disrespectful to Wales.’ He added.

This morning saw rumours emerge in the Daily Telegraph that the FA’s proposal was in tatters as Wales and Northern Ireland have again taken a strong stance on the issue.

It is unclear whether or not the rumours have any substance but, given Trefor Lloyd Hughes’ insistence that it would be difficult to block the FA, expect this debate to develop in the coming months.

 

Ozil’s the fall guy for Arsenal boss Wenger

The Offside Rule

Gunners’ £42.5million recording signing Mesut Ozil has been widely criticised for failing to make an impact in big games this season but here, Jamie Thomas, makes a case for the defence …

Mesut Ozil has gone from winning trophies with Real Madrid to taking the flak at Arsenal. The German failed to make an impact on the big stage as the Gunners were humbled by Monaco in the Champions League, but he was hardly to blame for their capitulation.

By Arsene Wenger’s own admission, their defending was “suicidal”. Yet, afterwards, the Ozil critics were out in force. While failing to track back, sulking when dispossessed, and being anonymous in important games, are legitimate concerns, we have to consider the reasons why Arsenal’s record signing is not living up to his price tag.

In Ozil’s case, the stats may surprise you. He has improved his all-round defensive performance by 9 per…

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Full Transcript of my interview with WikiLeaks Spokesperson, Kristinn Hrafnsson

Firstly, here’s a clip of the interview where I’ve cut out the general formal chit-chat at the start of the interview and so on and the ums and the ahs so to speak so enjoy!

Jamie Thomas: First of all I just need to get your consent that I can use what you say in this interview in my dissertation as a response to the results I have collected. Also if possible I would like to put a transcript of this interview on my blog because I think it is important for people to know what you have to say on these issues for obvious reasons.

Kristinn Hrafnsson: Yes, of course you can – and you are welcome to put a transcript of this conversation on your blog if you wish.

JT: So my study is looking at a selection of American, British and Australian national newspapers in particular – what do you remember, if anything because obviously you’re immersed in this world every day, of the media portrayal towards Assange and WikiLeaks at the time he was granted asylum in the embassy? Do any of those three countries stick out for you as being particularly negative towards him or positive at that time?

KH: Well I would have to revisit what was written at that time to make a proper answer but in general my impression was that the press was very negative at that time towards Mr Assange and his claiming of asylum. The way he was portrayed as evading justice in some manner, the British Press have been particularly guilty of this, always looking away from the matter at hand – generally just negative towards Assange and WikiLeaks in general.

JT: How important would you say it is that people analyse these media portrayals, especially of companies as important as WikiLeaks and Assange?

KH: Well in general it is very important that people do realise that there is quite often a very strong bias or a hidden agenda in the mainstream media and when it comes to WikiLeaks there are other elements there that come to mind. I have quite often said that one of the most important revelations of WikiLeaks in the past few years has been, on top of the documents we have published, is the revelation of how shallow the mainstream media have been in their reporting on the work they have not done themselves, especially on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. WikiLeaks and Assange have been on the receiving end of quite a lot of hostility from the mainstream media; they see WikiLeaks as a competitor and also they realise that in many ways what WikiLeaks have revealed is quite shaming to the role of the mainstream media and I think that is reflected in the atmosphere towards WikiLeaks. When it comes to Julian Assange it is also the element of attacking individuals who go against the mainstream.

JT: A lot of examples I found were publications using sources who said Assange claimed certain things or framed things in such a way that made him out to be some sort of paranoid individual who was on his own in his suspicions. Is this something you have found in your experience and what does this type of portrayal suggest to you?

KH: It has been appalling how the media has portrayed Julian Assange. It is quite shameful and above all else is a betrayal to the consumers and readers of mainstream media, it is totally incorrect. We have had to fight against hostile elements in the media who for years, and still very strong tendencies ongoing, want to twist things. Not a week goes by where I don’t have to correct those who are claiming that Julian Assange has been charged with crimes in Sweden – this is something that even now is written almost daily in the media which is simply factually incorrect.

JT: I wonder if you don’t mind me asking, what is your experience of Assange and how does your experience with him over the many years you’ve worked together contradict the negative assertions made about his character in the media?

KH: In general the media portrayal of Assange is quite different to what he is actually like. We met five years ago and we have had a great working relationship with WikiLeaks since then and what is being portrayed is totally contradictory to my experience. If you are asking how the general public can see through this distortion, it is not easy and there are individuals who are honest and critical of the media. John Pilger is one such great person who is not seen very favourably in the mainstream media because of his views, Russell Brand is another and it is quite interesting to see how the reaction is building in a similar manner to what it was with us and Julian Assange. He has been ridiculed by many and marginalised as this insane voice instead of this man who is telling the truth about the great flaws of journalism and the mainstream media today.

JT: Also most of the articles I analysed were loaded with direct quotations from the British Government who of course were, and still are, trying to justify their almost illegal methods to extradite Assange to Sweden, saying that he was using the embassy’s diplomatic immunity to hide from justice. How would you respond to that?

KH: The Ecuadorian Embassy took great care in looking over Julian’s application and did not grant him asylum until after weeks of careful analysis of his request. What I remember from William Hague in particular was his threat to storm the embassy which was quite remarkable in the sense that he said these words and made these outrageous threats. It totally united many countries in supporting the Ecuadorian Embassy, particularly Latin American countries where many of the political leaders there have great respect for the sanctuary of embassies. Quite a remarkable comment made by William Hague.

JT: Even in the limited amount of time I have had to analyse these articles, The New York Times and The Guardian appear to be among the most inflammatory in their comments regarding Assange and his character. Does this surprise you and why do you think they have taken this stance on Assange?

KH: Well it is well known that we had a very troubling relationship with these two media organisations, particularly with a couple of individuals who work with The Guardian and The New York Times. Back in those days they were quite dishonest to not honour their obligation and their word with regards to the publishing of some material so it created quite a lot of negative tension between WikiLeaks and these organisations and we would not tolerate this kind of behaviour and so that has in some way obviously coloured the way they paint the picture of the organisation and Julian Assange.

JT: I was reading Andrew O’Hagan’s article recently about him ghost-writing Assange’s book and how he naturally ended up spending a lot of time with Assange. He described Assange as being obsessively against NYT and The Guardian, even though in his opinion the NYT saved Assange from being imprisoned because the US couldn’t conceivably have convicted Assange for leaking those cables without convicting Keller and Rusbridger too. Do you agree with that assessment?

KH: I don’t agree with the assessment that The New York Times saved Julian Assange or WikiLeaks in any way. We could have worked with any other media organisation in that country that would have worked and behaved more honourably than Bill Keller I am sure, so I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with the fact that there is any obsession there either – we have a good relationship with a lot of people at The Guardian and a lot of people at the New York Times and there are a lot of good people there – the simple truth is that there were a few individuals who didn’t behave with honour when we asked them too.

JT: Although WikiLeaks has an enormous amount of loyal followers who are behind the organisation in everything they do, there are a lot of detractors and a lot of those detractors seem to focus on Assange and these perceived character flaws he has. Why do you think that is and do you think it takes away from all of the amazing work WikiLeaks does?

KH: Well that is quite an interesting question and it probably touches on a much bigger one which is basically about our relationship as a society with the mainstream media. When I first started working with Julian in 2010 prior to the release of the Collateral Murder video I was still a journalist working for another media organisation and it surprised me tremendously, and this still bothers me today, that the main focus was not on what I expected it to be. When the Collateral Murder video was released I saw the main focus, naturally, as being a very strong indication of a very serious war-crime being revealed in that horrendous video but mainstream media appeared to be focussed on two things: (a) who leaked the video and (b) who is this personality, Julian Assange. I think that says more about the nature of the mainstream media than anything about WikiLeaks, or Julian Assange for that matter. Journalism today is obsessively focussed on individuals or personalities and journalist spend more time idolising or tearing down individuals and less time on analysing the truth and trying to bring that to the public.

JT: Can I ask you about the Spy Cables that were released yesterday? I was just wondering if you could give a bit of background into the significance of them, what sort of conversation you’re hoping they’re going to start and where do they rank among other leaks you’ve made over the years? Is it the biggest yet?

KH: Well it is just starting to come out so we should give it a moment for the revelations to come to the fore but obviously it is of great importance and I believe it is something we are going to see more of. What started in 2010 with WikiLeaks was basically a watershed, there was a crack in that wall of secrecy and more and more has come out. Of course the most important leak since then was the Snowden Leaks and the Spy Cables now are an important insight into the inner working of the intelligence community and is quite an interesting and important contribution to our understanding of the world. This is the beginning of a new era where we will gradually see the tearing down of the curtains that have led us astray.

JT: We saw the waves caused by that first leak last night, is there more to come and are the following leaks going to cause a bigger impact in your opinion?

KH: Let’s see what happens – this is just starting!

Media’s portrayal of Assange has been shameful, says WikiLeaks Spokesperson

The full interview with Kristinn Hrafnsson can be found here:

WikiLeaks Spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson has slammed the media’s portrayal of Julian Assange as being shameful, incorrect and a “betrayal to the consumers and readers of mainstream media.”

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after being granted asylum in August 2012 amidst fears his human rights may be violated if he is extradited to Sweden.

Speaking specifically on the subject of Assange’s portrayal during the period the WikiLeaks founder was granted asylum in the embassy, Hrafnsson said:

“I would have to revisit what was written at the time but in general my impression was that the press was very negative at that time towards Mr Assange and his claiming of asylum.

“The way he was portrayed as evading justice – the British Press have been particularly guilty of this, always looking away from the matter at hand – generally negative towards Assange and WikiLeaks.”

WikiLeaks seen as a threat:

The media portrayal of Assange is of particular interest given the rumoured rifts Assange has had with the mainstream media when he has worked with some of them in publishing WikiLeaks’ work.

Hrafnsson said: “WikiLeaks and Assange have been on the receiving end of quite a lot of hostility from the mainstream media; they see WikiLeaks as a competitor.

“They realise that in many ways what WikiLeaks have revealed is quite shaming to the role of the mainstream media and I think that is reflected in the atmosphere towards WikiLeaks.”

The story of the WikiLeaks founder’s asylum bid is one of the biggest political stories in recent memory and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on watching the Embassy.

Stalemate:

  • If Assange steps outside of the Embassy he will be arrested immediately because of the European Arrest Warrant against him from Sweden, where he is alleged to have committed crimes.
  • Following years of appeals and hearings, the case against Assange hasn’t moved passed the interview stage as he refuses to go to Sweden because of fears he’ll be extradited to America for leaking millions of diplomatic cables.
  • Swedish officials recently stated at a UN meeting that the country had no problem in detaining Assange without charging him – a statement which has raised many eyebrows.
  • Swedish officials are refusing to come to the UK to question Assange in the embassy in a frustrating move which has seen the Swedish and UK governments grow impatient with the case.
  • Assange recently submitted an appeal to Sweden’s Supreme Court but if that appeal is unsuccessful it is expected he will take his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Personal Attacks:

Assange has often been portrayed in the media as a paranoid individual however Hrafnsson says that “what is being portrayed is totally contradictory to my experience.

“In general the media portrayal of Assange is quite different to what he is actually like. We met five years ago and we have had a great working relationship with WikiLeaks since then.”

The British Government threatened to storm the Ecuadorian Embassy when Assange was granted asylum if he didn’t turn himself in, comments which united many countries behind Assange’s cause.

Hrafnsson said: “It totally united many countries in supporting the Ecuadorian Embassy, particularly Latin American countries where many there have great respect for the sanctuary of embassies.”

“WikiLeaks’ work in 2010 was basically a watershed, what we’re seeing now with Snowden and others is the beginning of a new era where we will gradually see the tearing down of the curtains that have led us astray.”

For more information on Assange’s appeal, head over to https://freeassangenow.org/ or for more information on the work WikiLeaks does in general, click here