Seminar focuses on WikiLeaks

Carousel, News — February 9, 2012 8:00 am

The impact of WikiLeaks, the secret-sharing website that unleashed a flood of classified U.S. government documents, was the subject of a recent Houston seminar on the nexus of law and media.

The release of these documents by WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange changed the way journalists obtain previously classified information from government sources, which in turn brought new legal and ethical scenarios into the practice of journalism, said Eric Schmitt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times who spoke at the conference.

Other speakers included Geoffrey Robertson, the London-based attorney for Assange who Skyped from London, and members of a panel that featured Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters on Freedom of the Press; Don DeGabrielle, former U.S. Attorney for the southern district of Texas; and David Adler, a federal criminal defense attorney and former CIA officer.

Dr. Alice Rowlands, professor in journalism and mass communication and faculty adviser for The Collegian, said it was important for students to see journalists and government officials discussing the subject because it shows the collaboration of the two entities.

Senior Daniel Cadis, editor in chief of The Collegian, who attended the seminar, said WikiLeaks was an important development in the journalism profession. “Its releases put nearly every global event from the last two decades into context and provided an unvarnished glimpse into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as the workings of the U.S. State Department,” he said.

Assange currently faces charges of sexual misconduct in Sweden.  Sweden will likely extradite him to the U.S., which may prosecute him for the release of government cables by his organization, according to The New York Times.

Robertson defended Assange against claims that the leak of the government cables from WikiLeaks put lives at stake. “A long time has passed, and not a single casualty has been reported,” Robertson said to an audience of about 80 people. “There is no blood on WikiLeaks’ hands.”

One major consequence of WikiLeaks is that journalists had to adapt the information-gathering process to the introduction of websites like WikiLeaks, Schmitt said.

As more websites are created, Dalglish said the flow of information will likely increase. “The reaction WikiLeaks received was based on what could happen the next time information about the government is obtained and released,” she said.

At the event’s conclusion, Cadis and other attendees were able to mingle with the speakers and the other media and law professionals.

“I loved getting to interact with Schmitt before and after the event,” Cadis said. “He was incredibly courteous and answered questions critical for the careers of budding journalists.”

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