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Liam McLaughlin

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Can We Take Julian Assange's New TV Show Seriously?

Posted: 19/04/2012 14:24

It has long been the case that those of us who are supposedly most dedicated to human freedom and dignity are also those most susceptible to ideologies of absolutes. It is a bitter irony, and one which has afflicted many great thinkers, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Arundhati Roy.

The next in line for this strange distinction seems to be Julian Assange, who has launched his own TV show on the Russian state-owned channel Russia Today. As with many controversial figures, the Wikileaks editor is seen as a freedom fighter by some, and a dangerous maverick by others. His first interview for the Russian channel - with Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Lebanese political-military organisation Hezbollah - will only affirm such opinions about him.

The debut episode of the show, called The World Tomorrow, featured Assange asking stilted questions via a translator to Nasrallah, who was present through a video link. Remarkably, it was his first interview in six years, and made for a fascinating watch for anyone interested in the Middle East.

It was unclear though whether the interview was a completely biased attempt to promote Russian foreign policy, or was just trying to air the kinds of opinions ignored by much of the western media.

Assange's demeanor was difficult to sympathise with as he played the anti-American role - treating the USA unquestioningly as the Great Evil. Clearly such lazy bias is not necessarily helpful to a journalist, and that it just so happens to fall into line with the Russian stance is rather suspicious considering Russian state TV is funding and broadcasting the show. Suffice to say, it will be hard to defend Assange from claims that he is yet another apparently left-wing apologist for Russia's oppressive and absolutist regime. In this sense it is tough to see the programme as serious or impartial journalism.

Anti-Americanism is something which has become increasingly popular since the beginning of the 2003 Iraq war, spearheaded by people like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. There is no doubt that America has been one of the main belligerents in the 20th and 21st centuries, responsible - whether directly or indirectly - for a huge number of wars and deaths. You only need to look at Vietnam, Nicaragua, or the Congo to see this. But is it always useful to blame America? For one thing, this mindset can often detract from the complexities of a country's internal problems, which are equally salient factors in creating civil wars and revolutions. Further, if we focus only on America's role in these events, we absolve corrupt, greedy, and downright evil internal actors of guilt.

Unaware of this, Assange failed to challenge Nasrallah on some of his more esoteric or unclear answers, allowing him to come across as a very reasonable man considering that he is portrayed as a dangerous 'terrorist' leader throughout much of the west. Incidentally, The Independent's Robert Fisk has repeatedly remarked on the misrepresentation of Hezbollah in the western press, and despite the interview's shortcomings, Nasrallah's performance on The World Tomorrow could certainly lend some credence to Fisk's claims.

Saying this, we must not forget Hezbollah's close links with Iran and stranglehold on Lebanese politics, as well as its own acts of belligerence - left unchallenged by Assange - including unprompted kidnappings, rocket attacks on northern Israel, and an alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Its support of the violent Syrian regime was also let slide after Nasrallah claimed that Hezbollah had encouraged the opposition to enter talks with the Assads, but that they had declined.

Make no mistake, it is hypocritical of Assange to work for a country which unashamedly represses democracy, murders inquisitive journalists, and crushes regional uprisings. As a champion of freedom of information, he must realise that Russia embodies everything that he is against. But through his lens of anti-Americanism, Assange seems to have fallen into the dangerous trap of "my enemy's enemy is my friend."

Saying this, much of the mainstream media in the west is owned by individual billionaires with links to politicians, arguably rendering it as partisan as Russia Today. Some would say that there is no moral equivalence between Russia and the US or Russia and the UK. However, many others would retort that there is. Think Guantanemo Bay, support for illegal Israeli 'settlements', invasive privacy laws, and promotion of illegal wars.

If you follow the recent ignorant line of argument for a pre-emptive strike on Iran, it is clear that the western media does not understand those it demonises, and does not want to. The 'other' is rarely given a voice, and as a result is entrenched in the minds of westerners as a group of faceless barbarians. At least Assange, through Russia Today, is giving those people a voice, albeit one that should be treated with caution.

 

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