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!