Julian Assange: Hero Or Villain

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Julian Assange’s character first came into the attention of multiple news stories across international medias by hacking into databases of various high-profile organizations and gathering information – information that he would later use for his controversial website ‘Wikileaks’. The site officially launched in 2007, later that year releasing information regarding the U.S Military, and over the next 12 years providing the general public with documents and videos from events such as the Guantanamo detention centre, private emails from political parties such as Hilary Clintons campaign in 2016, and the Afghan and Irak wars. In December 2010 Assange fell under investigation for allegations of sexual assault in Sweden, resulting in an arrest warrant for him. Assange went to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in June 2012, where he was granted political asylum by the Ecuadorean government in order to avoid extradition to Sweden. Under the protection of the Embassy, a story began to spiral in 2012 written in the New York Times that stated, “Mr Assange could face ‘political prosecution’ or be sent to the United States to face the death penalty”. Different types of news coverage bring forward different lights to the situation allowing for readers to create their own perspective of what is occurring. Some coverage focuses on the facts and informing the public of what has exactly happened. Whilst other articles primarily focus on the personal and emotion aspects of it to create sympathy for characters of either side of the story.

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Since Julian Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorean Embassy 7 years ago, there hasn’t been a shortage of New articles regarding his previous actions, personal attacks of his character and particular focus on website Wikileaks. In April of 2019, Ecuador announced the withdrawal of Assange’s asylum at the Embassy, where he was soon after arrested by the London police. It was later announced that the U.S government had charged him with conspiring with a former Army intelligence analyst, in order to break into the government computer system at the pentagon. Instantly news programs such as the ABC, the Guardian and SBS began programming the details of exactly what was occurring.

At the beginning of April as details began circulating and covering exactly why Assange was being extradited from the Embassy – the majority of news media relied on the facts whilst subliminally portraying Assange as being someone who had caused the Embassy a lot of grief. Never directly claiming any actions during his 7 years but hinting towards it.

Later in the month the ABC and the Guardian released articles, with titles such as, “Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, found guilty of breaching bail by British Court.” And “Julian Assange warned of this very scenario for years, and now it’s coming to pass”. Titles which evidentially expresses what exactly was occurring rather than creating unjustified claims of character. Often Assange is categorised by the general public and his supporters as a truth warrior, and in an article by the ABC (released mid-April), the evidence reported a completely different person.

Under the title of “Julian Assange evicted from Ecuadorian Embassy for ‘spoiled brat’ behaviour, President Lenin Moreno says”, the article refers to him as a ‘spoilt brat’ and is continuously repeated as an act of further conveying the centre focus of Assange’s character. He is referred to as a ‘national insult’, ‘miserable hacker’, and they mention his constant ‘erratic behaviour’. In the article Julian Assange is clearly depicted as a criminal, and the Ecuadorian government as the protectors that were doing nothing but trying to help. They claim Assange would often skateboard late at night, physical harassment of his caretakers and worst of all smearing his own faecal matter on the walls of the diplomatic mission, all claiming that he constantly tested the patience of his hosts. To contrast these negative allegations being reported by the ABC, the Ecuadorian government is represented by focusing on the idea that they are wonderful hosts. Claiming that they “pride themselves on their hospitality”, claiming to have spent almost 1.4 million US dollars per year protecting Assange while they were considered a laughing stock for helping him, and Assange becoming a national insult.

This is then completely contradicted in another article, one that primarily focuses on the emotional torment and disregard Assange was treated with during his last years at the embassy. The Ecuadorian government and specifically their leader in power Lenin Moreno, has flipped roles with Julian Assange, becoming the evil character in a story where no one from the general public knows exactly what is happening. Entitled, “Julian Assange’s lawyer says Ecuador’s claims about his behaviour are ‘outrageous allegations”. Through the language used in this, it expresses that the allegations made by the Ecuadorian government is unjust and unfair, claiming to have been “spreading lies” in order to justify expelling him from the embassy. A direct quote from his lawyer, “After a change of government, with Lenin Moreno coming into power… the situation inside the embassy became more and more difficult, to the point where even Human Rights watch said it was akin to solitary confinement”. In order to further convey that he had been victimised, a video of him being ripped from the Embassy, showing harsh images of him struggling and being forced aggressively by both the government and British police has been attached to the article.

On Monday the 22nd of July, 4 corners released the first part of a two-part story regarding Julian Assange, entitled ‘Hero or Villain’. Due to 4 corners being a reliable source, it overlooks all perspective of the recent news and information we have. Both showing the perspective of those who believe his is a truth warrior and those who believe he is a criminal who should be locked up for life. The use of formal language is used very commonly all throughout the story, as well as interviews from credible sources. 4 corner acts as a very reliable source due their style of interviewing, allowing the audience to make their own decision by bringing forward lots of different opinions. As well as this they gave lots of sources, one particular source which begins as the first topic of the story. The leaked video of the US government killing innocent civilians. A direct quote from reviewing this video was from Daniel Domscheit-Burg, the Wikileaks spokesperson from 2007 – 2010, “The footage showed an attack on a group of men by US apache helicopters. Twelve people including two Reuters news staff were killed. Two children were injured. The callous behaviour of the US troops exposed the brutality of the conflict to the world.” Which continues to ask the question, is he a hero or villain? And identifying multiple perspectives on the situation.

In comparison to this, 60 minutes released a story entitled ‘The Real Julian Assange: Part 1’ – which unlike 4 corners and focusing on the facts, shed light on the emotional side, bringing his family members in. It’s commercial tv and is therefore more dramatized to fit the audience’s emotion. The primary focus is Julian Assange’s father, which often includes lots of emotional shots of him. For example, they show clips of his father watching the dramatic and confronting video of Assange being ripped from the Embassy. The use of close ups and clips of Assange’s supporters are constantly thrown in to continue evoking sympathy for him, trying to continue to re-establish that “Julian Assange is not some careless villain computer hacker, but a hero of free speech.” Whilst sensationalising the story in the meantime.

Overall, it’s clearly been depicted that through time news medias can become biased and create different representations of people through the use of text, language feature, titles, shots, facts and much more. As Julian Assange will be most likely convicted and potentially face a life time in jail, news stories will continue to twist stories to favour a particular opinion, some being more reliable than others. It’s up to the viewer to make their own opinion of his character and decide for themselves if he truly is a hero or a villain.     

16 December 2021

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