Wikileaks - subversion or Journalism ? : U.S. and French News Framing of Wikileaks and implications on internet Freedom of Expression - Université de Lille Accéder directement au contenu
Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Wikileaks - subversion or Journalism ? : U.S. and French News Framing of Wikileaks and implications on internet Freedom of Expression

Ivanka Radovic
  • Fonction : Auteur
Ioana Coman
  • Fonction : Auteur


In April of 2010, the non-profit website WikiLeaks published a classified video of a U.S. Apache helicopter aircrew firing upon civilians in Bahgdad. A 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Bradly Manning, had provided WikiLeaks the video (McGreal, 2010). Later that year, the online organization released on its site part of over 250,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables also provided by Manning. Many of the cables included U.S. diplomats' assessments of world leaders and other sensitive information. Copies of the documents were also sent to key media organizations around the world, including the New York Times in the United States and Le Monde in France. Both the video and document releases led to denunciations by the U.S. government, including accusations that the disclosures jeopardized the lives of individuals who had assisted in U.S. initiatives. WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, defended his decision to release the material stating that he "operated like any other publisher" who was given documents that expose government wrongdoings (Kroft, Rosenberg, Simon, 2011). His statement reflects what is stated on WikiLeaks's website regarding its objectives: "One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth" ("What is," 2011). While Assange argues that he is a journalist "acting in the spirit of America's founding fathers," critics have characterized Assange as an "anarchist" and the acts of WikiLeaks as "subversive" (Kroft, Rosenberg, Simon, 2011). The purpose of this study was to examine how the leading newspapers in the United States and France covered WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011. Its objective was to decipher the framing of WikiLeaks, and the discourse presented regarding Internet freedom of expression, while taking into account the cultural political context in which the newspapers operate. It sought to not only explore whether or not WikiLeaks was being framed as a journalism outlet, but also to understand if it was being perceived as an important part of a democratic public sphere. Democracy, Public Sphere, and the Internet The components needed to build a true democracy have been one of the central areas of exploration for philosophers, humanists, and social scientists alike. Plato argued that a just society needed to be led by those who are most knowledgeable and engaged in rational reasoning (Plato, 2003). Taking an anti-elitist position, philosopher and educator John Dewey proclaimed the importance of educating the public and of free public discussion (Caspary, 2000). Social theorist Jurgen Habermas has asserted that free discussion in the public sphere (assembly halls, social clubs, newspapers, journals, etc.) is critical in furthering democracies. Habermas has further suggested, however, that the public sphere where free and rational discussion of public affairs should take place is dwindling (Habermas, 1989; Johnson, 2006). He maintains that the public sphere, which serves as a mediator between private interests and state authority, has been corrupted with the transformation of liberal democracy into state capitalism. Habermas is concerned that the public sphere has morphed into an arena controlled by dominant elites and a culture of mass consumption (Calhoun, 2006; Johnson, 2006). Educators and scholars (e.g., Bagdikian, 2004; Mills, 2000) have echoed the concern expressed by Habermas in their focus on the role of the press, describing the press in the United States as residing within the nexus of the economic and political power elites, with a mission of upholding the status quo. Herman and Chomsky (1988) consider the U.S. press as lap dogs of its government. Donohue, Tichenor, and Olien (1995), taking a more tempered approach, refer to the news media in democracies as following the role of a guard dog. The media allow healthy debate to occur as long as it does not jeopardize the stability of the nation and national security. Given the literature suggesting that the mainstream news media in democracies are closely intertwined with those who hold economic and political power, the introduction of the Internet offered hope to many that this new conduit of communication would herald a renewed freedom of expression and heighten political participation. Borrowing from Habermas, several scholars (e.g., Bohman, 2004; Carty, 2010; Kellner, 1997) believed that the Internet would offer a new public sphere and allow unfettered exchanges of ideas. With technological improvements and greater public Internet access, however, governments have increasingly been censoring and placing controls on the Internet, often in the name of citizenry protection and/or national security (Deibert 2009; Nunziato, 2009). The U.S. has harshly criticized such clampdowns, arguing that freedom of expression should be secured for all Internet users ("Remarks on," 2010). Thus, when WikiLeaks released sensitive U.S.-related material in 2010, the actions posed a dilemma for the U.S. For while touting Internet freedom, the U.S. government took steps to bring down WikiLeaks and Assange. WikiLeaks also posed a dilemma for mainstream news media. They were forced to address a situation in which an organization, WikiLeaks, claiming to be a journalism outlet, was having its freedom to disseminate information in the name of national security. Research Paper Outline Through its examination of WikiLeaks news coverage by the U.S.'s New York Times and Washington Post, as well as France's Le Monde and Le Figaro, this research hoped to shed light on how mainstream news media are addressing the tension between freedom of expression via the Internet and government Internet control The paper first explores Internet freedom of expression and Internet controls by so-called democratic governments. It then discusses at a theoretical level how mainstream news media in democracies, while purporting to support press freedom, operate within the confines of a cultural and political ideological structure. This is followed by a presentation of the study's findings regarding the news framing of WikiLeaks in the U.S. and France, and a discussion regarding the implications of the findings in terms of the possibilities of an Internet-driven public sphere.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840639 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840639 , version 1


Catherine Luther, Ivanka Radovic, Ioana Coman. Wikileaks - subversion or Journalism ? : U.S. and French News Framing of Wikileaks and implications on internet Freedom of Expression. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840639⟩


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