Off the Record: WikiLeaks and a free press

By Roberta M. Gubbins
Legal News

Recently I was attending a non-legal function, hard to believe but I do have a life outside the legal world that I report on and have been part of in one way or another for the past three decades.

I was asked, “In your role as reporter, what do you think of Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks revelations?”

I paused, pondering the question. 

“I believe in Freedom of the Press,” I said. “I have lived in countries that do not have a free press. I could not believe what I read or heard or saw from the media.  I prefer a press that is free to express itself.”

“What about the dangers to the people who are exposed?”

“I think people have a right to know what their government is doing. I believe it is not possible to have too much information. While I regret that someone might be endangered because of the leaks, I view this as the price we pay for living in a free country.”

When the public has all the facts, change happens. I experienced change due to the power of the press long, long ago.

I was a target shooter. While attending the University of Michigan, I shot on the men’s rifle team. Needless to say, I was the only female shooter in the Big Ten. It was, after all, the 1950s. There were women shooters all over the country but not any in the Big Ten. The teams had never seen a rifle-toting female before. They were a trifle confused and upset.

After shooting on the team for two years, the Big Ten coaches got together and voted me out of the Big Ten. Their reasoning was the usual for that time; hard to understand unless one realized that the U of M won during the two years I was on the team because of the four of us who were equally good shots. Banning me destroyed a winning team.

There was no Title IX to protect me. There was no legal recourse. Our coach was furious. He liked winning.

He turned to the Associated Press. A story was released, newspapers all over the country ran it;  the Big Ten became embarrassed, changing their position shortly after I graduated. Women were now free to shoot in the Big Ten.

All because the people had the facts. Perhaps there was harm to some of the men who would have to tolerate women in their midst with all the dangers such presence created, but so be it. Now, of course, years later, women shooters are not viewed with alarm or shock, but are readily accepted.

As I write this Julian Assange, of WikiLeaks fame, is being released from his Victorian cell in a British prison.

I am sure he will report on the entire ordeal using every means possible. Readers will follow his words, activities, and thoughts on the Internet. He will be criticized or supported for all to see.

People of the world will judge, based on the information revealed, not just information that their governments believe is best for them to hear or see.     

Thomas Erskine, (member of Parliament in Great Britain, 1750-1823) said, “The press must be free; it has always been so and much evil has been corrected by it. If government finds itself annoyed by it, let it examine its own conduct and it will find the cause.”

“Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” Abraham Lincoln                                                           

It is hard to find fault with those statements. A free press is necessary to a free society. Investigative journalists will report the facts; publishers such as Julian Assange will disseminate the information via print or Internet. The facts may cause embarrassment or concern to our government but the people will be free to judge and “will be safe.” 

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