WikiLeaks founder and editor Julian Assange is currently on trial in London. The hearing is an attempt to enable Assange’s extradition to the United States – where he will face more than a dozen charges and up to 175 years in prison.
The case comes a decade or so after Assange and his media outlet, WikiLeaks, began to expose confidential US military files. Said files were provided by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. A former intelligence analyst for the US army, Manning obtained nearly 750,000 delicate documents. These exposed various hidden American truths, including US descriptions of foreign leaders, political bullying, and US-committed war crimes. The Manning leaks provided particular insight into the US’ war with Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the 2000s.
Possibly the most scarring leaked information included thousands of brushed under the rug civilian casualties at the hands of the US. Of the more disturbing revelations, a graphic 40-minute video, called Collateral Murder, can be found at WikiLeaks.
The Julian Assange Trial, in brief
Assange now stands trial for his roll in exposing heinous war crimes committed by one of the world’s largest global powers. His trial has been underway for multiple weeks, yet reporting on the case is sparse. Why do you think that is?
Well, the trial is a direct attack on journalism and journalistic integrity. It is a warning shot for reporters, journalists, and news outlets around the globe. If you mess with the United States or expose its government’s shadiness and cruelty, you will be extradited and tortured and imprisoned. The trial for Julian Assange is an effort to set an absolute criminal precedent against the press.
The fact remains that Assange has done nothing wrong. In an ideal world that we should all strive to one day be a part of, the pursuit of truth should be celebrated. Not persecuted. In the words of Caitlin Johnstone, “The Assange case is this generation’s Nelson Mandela moment.”
It is the responsibility of all media members to take a stand.
In fairness, I understand why games media wouldn’t jump to get in bed with Julian Assange. Mainstream media has distorted the controversy into a political one, rather than a journalistic one. But, that is exactly why games media needs to back Assange. His case is 100% about journalism.
Any member of the media or any person with a platform that does not amplify Assange right now has no desire to be an actual journalist. They had knelt before the system and surrendered to it. To ignore Julian Assange is to ignore the sanctity of authorship. It is taking your First Amendment rights and returning them in exchange for a muzzle.
Frankly, it is despicable.
You may be saying, “something like this is best left to The New York Times or The Washington Post.” Sure, if they had any integrity left in their tanks. Mainstream media is submissive and has been for years when it comes to Assange and WikiLeaks. Even now, with his trial underway, there’s a good chance you don’t know who Julian Assange is or why he’s on trial. That is not a coincidence.
You might also be saying, “We should stay in our lane” or “it’s not our fight.” Well, it is our fight. It is a fight for everyone who has ever utilized the First Amendment. Journalistic integrity is meant to exist throughout the entirety of media – not just in politics.
A Schreier Comparison
Take Jason Schreier – the former Kotaku and current Bloomberg News writer. He made a name for himself in the gaming industry through his investigative journalism. Rather than sticking to writeups about release dates and trailers, Schreier exposed harsh truths about work conditions within major gaming companies. He has covered crunch culture at the top PlayStation-operated studio, Naughty Dog. In April, Schreier reported on shady wage-tactics directed at Borderlands 3 developers. Earlier this summer, he wrote about sexual misconduct at Ubisoft.
Now imagine that the top gaming CEOs and higher-ups came together and decided to blackball Schreier from the games industry? What if they pursued him legally for years? What if the ripped him from an Ecuadorian Embassy and threw him in prison?
Perhaps they tortured him and dragged his name through the mud on Fox News and CNN? And, imagine if we all stood by quietly and watched?
That is what is happening to Julian Assange (be it on a far more grandiose level). Assange helped expose evil. As a result, he has born witness to a mass exodus from members of the journalism world.
Shame on us. All of us.
Avoiding Julian Assange is ignoring our role
Schreier has over 200,000 Twitter followers. Greg Miller has 1.2 million. IGN has over 14 million subscribers. GameSpot has nearly 4.5 million. They all have numerous employees who report on video games daily. Don’t be confused by the subject matter; they are journalists.
This is why games media needs to step up to the plate and defend its craft. The attempted extradition and condemning of Julian Assange will create tsunami-level repercussions for journalists. IGN, GameSpot, and Kinda Funny may not be tackling international corruption, but they are part of a brother and sisterhood of responsible reporting.
Many members of video games media have become increasingly political through their work and social media accounts in 2020. Major talking points have included the Coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election. If they are willing to chime in on such surface-level talking points, they must also be willing to challenge other circumstances.
The trial of Julian Assange would be one of the more relevant points of entry. Video games and nerd culture media members already understand the implications that repressed expression can cause. Holding back from the whole truth can swiftly discredit one’s work and be damning to their career and reputation in the field. More importantly, it makes it impossible for the facts to become exposed.
What if the semi-recent stories surrounding Borderlands 3 and Ubisoft hadn’t been reported? If evil and malice weren’t combatted? If journalists were barred from reporting on them? This is what the Julian Assange trial is about. It is why games media needs to be better and stand up against injustice outside of its immediate industry.
Games media reporters need to be more than propaganda and one-trick ponies – they need to be actual journalists.