As I was leaving the Festival of Dangerous Ideas‘ satellite link-up-up with Julian Assange last night at Sydney Opera House, I heard an Irishman say: “So much time wasted with irrelevant stuff… CUT TO THE CHASE!”, and couldn’t resist adding my 10 cents worth: “The Opera House filtered the questions; I’ll remind you of that.” He looked surprised and then, as if the penny dropped: “Yeah, you’re right!”
Listen to full audio here: http://www.viddler.com/explore/NOH8ER/videos/6/
Many thanks to @noh8er for capturing this.
The Opera House had announced but 3 days before, with a 27-hour window of opportunity, that we should submit our questions by email, since they could not take them live, due to the talk being done via satellite. Em… has anyone heard of an audio mixer?? I was lucky enough to catch the notification in time, but others didn’t.
It was good news however to hear that the presentation would be split in half: Julian’s talk; then a generous 30 minutes for questions. What became quickly evident however, which also made me scratch my forehead, was that the satellite transmission was running on a 7 second delay, despite ABC host Fran Kelly’s explanation: “Ellingham Hall in Norfolk, is a very long way away… ”
It began thus:
[audience cheers when Assange's name is mentioned; WOO HOOs abound when he appears onscreen]
Fran Kelly (ABC TV): “So over to you……………………..” [audience laughter at the extraordinarily long (satellite) delay]
Assange: It is heartening to me to hear that kind of response in Australia. The Australian public and its support of our work is really something that keeps us going. The reaction in Washington and London is really very different, and that’s something I’d like to explore a little bit; about how different nationalities and different States have viewed our work and reacted to it.
“310 days ago I was in Wandsworth Prison in Windsor, in London. I was placed into the basement, into the CSU(?) separation unit, kept away from all other prisoners, confined to myself 24 hours a day, and during that time I had a moment to reflect…”
“We had a whole lot of government task forces in Australia set up against us – publicly declared – involving the AFP, ASIS ASIO, the Department of Defence and the Attorney General; looking in to whether there was any way to stop what we were doing; whether we had committed criminal offences in Australia… and that swift reaction by the Australian Government was only stopped, ONLY stopped by the Australian population and by our friends in the Australian media.”
“Left to its own devices, the Australian Government / the Australian Labour Cabinet would have done everything in its power to see me and other people working with me shipped off to the United States.”
So you have enemies in high places here in Australia Julian? I wonder if we have figured out everyone we should “dump” yet. He shows us “some 270 pages released…” about Wikileaks staff by the Australian Government to the US State Department (BEFORE Cablegate). He says they were obtained via FOI, but the pages are about 75% blacked out!
Rolls of laughter from the audience and quite a bit of chatter… This is your Government…
Assange goes on to say that 1% of the American population has signed the official secrets act, a total of 3 million people, who are not allowed to talk about what they are doing. Sounds familiar… In Australia, government workers are not allowed to talk to EACH OTHER, starting with people in other departments, about internal affairs. At one of our largest media organisations, you can’t connect to the internet from inside the building – to stop that kind of caper from happening – and they send supervisors to tell the journalists what to write.
I find it sad to contemplate this bottle-neck of blur, where people are not supposed to think for themselves or communicate their opinions to others; this absurd “don’t ask, don’t tell” framework that MUST lead to disinformation, even when it’s not deliberate. Assange tells us that America is run by a “Shadow Government” (keeping us in the dark?) that involves both corporate sponsorship and collaboration. He cites Paypal, Mastercard and Bank of America’s extra-judicial blockage of Wikileaks revenue, to the tune of about $AU 30 million, but passes on whinging about media-orchestrated calls for his assassination.
This nexus of power, he asserts, exists above the government and quite brazenly at times, outside of the rule of law. In the US, one can’t run for Election without access to such sponsorship. He explains further, how this Shadow Government extends its existence and will throughout many other countries in the world… and right into our pockets in the form of a credit card. Yikes!!
As his speech concludes on a note of optimism – The whistle blowing will (must?) continue even if Wikileaks doesn’t – the capacity crowd are stirring at the prospect of their questions being selected. ABC’s Fran Kelly is onstage to read them out, but she starts with her own rather long-winded one, which essentially portrays Wikileaks as tragically dead meat.
Has the ambience been poisoned? Absolutely not! Julian gets us laughing again by describing it as “A rather big boat with a lot of torpedo holes in it” which is still… “drifting along”. We are greatly amused a while later, when he slips in the word “Titanic” to describe governments; reminded of our abandonment of the “too big to fail” fallacy.
Ms Kelly went on, via selected questions, to challenge Assange about facing the “charges” in Sweden, an almost unforgivable mistake, which Julian didn’t find quite so funny as he explained to her that there were no charges. He also had to remind her that the entire Cablegate had been released, and was viewable by everyone, two days before Wikileaks published it.
On the whole, I didn’t like the Opera House’s selection of questions. They were too generalist for that audience (you’ll hear them groan at times..) and ranged from valid, to misinformed, to antagonistic, to redundant, to downright stupid and a waste of precious time… as our man said. This one for example: “Why don’t you accept extradition to the US and stare out your accusers?” got multiple outbursts of: “That’s a stupid question”…
Julian’s forthright and clarifying responses were warmly applauded by the audience, as was his announcement that Wikileaks STILL don’t have blood on their hands, but my favourite moment was when Kelly tried stop him from CUTTING TO THE CHASE… Big LOL!
At one point he went on a roll citing important but utterly dubious redactions from cables, when they had appeared in mainstream media – not only names but FACTS, he demonstrated. If I had been the compare, I would have let him continue, because that’s what we wanted to hear, but she didn’t. However… because of the very long satellite delay, he couldn’t hear her, so he continued for some time, and she got flustered… and even after he must have heard her, he kept going… Utterly the best moment of the evening to see Juju conquer the 7 second delay…