Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claims PCC showed a ‘reluctance to act and to adhere to its own guidelines’ while he ‘suffered extensive libels’
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has claimed to have been the subject of “ongoing, widespread inaccurate and negative media coverage” of sexual offence allegations made against him and the ongoing extradition proceedings relating to these.
In evidence submitted to the Leveson Inquiry, published today, Assange launched a scathing attack on the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which he says failed to act while he “suffered extensive libels”.
“In my own case, the PCC’s adjudication of 45 of my complaints found that although I had not been formally charged it was, nonetheless, perfectly acceptable for newspapers to say that I had been charged with rape as being ‘charged’ with an offence is seen as the same as a mere allegation.”
In his evidence he claimed the “negative media coverage” was “possibly on a scale not seen since the abuse of the McCanns”.
The documents signed and dated 23 February recount the Wikileaks founder’s dealings with the PCC after a series of articles falsely accused him of sexual assault charges which had not been levelled at him.
Assange’s evidence notes how the PCC ruled there had been no breach of its code of practice over some 45 articles appearing in newspapers including the Guardian, the Observer, the Daily Mail, the Independent and the Evening Standard, which made reference to “charges” against him, that he was “facing charges” or had been “charged”.
He said the PCC had failed to enforce “proper standards of fairness” and showed a “reluctance to act and to adhere to its own guidelines” at a time when his ability to achieve justice was “severely curtailed”.
He stressed his belief that he has a “unique perspective to offer the inquiry” as someone who has suffered from the press’s “failure to maintain high ethical standards”.
In his written statement, Assange said he represents a valid “case study” for the inquiry, which is seeking to establish a new regulatory body after it was announced in December last year the PCC was set to be dismantled.
“This submission presents a unique opportunity to look at these issues in a contemporaneous context, and one that is both high profile and political, involving a serious matter currently before the Supreme Court – a politicised extradition case.
“It makes an excellent case study because of its relatively short time window, consistency of issues and because nearly every sector of the UK news industry is represented in some way it permits an easy cross-analysis.
“It can bring focus to many of the key issues the Leveson inquiry wishes to explore: for example, whether the Editors’ Code is insufficiently rigorous to be meaningful, and the disparity between how newsrooms say they implement it and their subsequent attitudes towards it when challenged about breaches of its principles; does the PCC have enough independence within the current model of self-regulation; and what explains its inability to meet its Charter commitments (the majority of these complaints took roughly twice the advertised ‘average of 35 working days’), among other things.”
Assange’s evidence added in conclusion that “press falsehoods need to be disincentivised or they will flourish”.
“Unfortunately, the Press Complaints Commission does not provide effective disincentives or corrective remedies for victims. Neither, in many cases, do the courts due to the expense of libel actions.”
Assange is currently under house arrest at a supporter’s mansion in Norfolk, awaiting the result of a Supreme Court appeal against his extradition to Sweden over allegations of sexual offences.