Assange, Snowden, and Greenwald Silent On Ecuador's Sweeping New Media Laws

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, posted an editorial/call to arms in The Guardian that once again promotes his view of America as the oppressor of the world while remaining noticeably silent on the draconian new threat to free speech for the people in Ecuador. 

Assange begins with an interesting admission:

The original cypherpunks were mostly Californian libertarians. I was from a different tradition…

The link between anti-military libertarians and anti-military leftists continues with Ron Paul supporter Edward Snowden working with anti-imperialist internationalists like Assange, Laura Poitras, and Glenn Greenwald as we speak. Their common cause is not to protect America's freedoms but to destroy the military dominance of the United States in order to free the world from what this group sees as the oppressive force of what they call the American empire.

Latin America is a big focus of Assange's piece. This is especially important, since Snowden may be bringing his classified information, training, and skill set to Latin America at the behest of Assange. Assange writes:

The struggle for Latin American self-determination is important for many more people than live in Latin America, because it shows the rest of the world that it can be done. But Latin American independence is still in its infancy. Attempts at subversion of Latin American democracy are still happening, including most recently in Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Assange's talk about the "struggle for Latin American self-determination" makes it clear that the "tradition" he comes out of is Marxism and more specifically Leninism. Vladimir Lenin laid out the importance of destroying capitalist imperialism in his 1916 essay "The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination." This view of "rights" as a thing belonging to states, not just individuals, is a running theme in Assange's Guardian piece.

What about the rights of the individuals when a state "self determines" to nationalize private property or seize control of communications? Assange is mute on that point.

This explicitly socialist view of imperialist America trampling on the rights of the world is a common thread that has run through the Snowden story and its attacks on American military intelligence gathering. America as empire is a common theme with Greenwald, who constantly refers to that concept in pieces throughout his career with titles like "Collapsing Empire Watch" and "Will America Do Anything to Preserve Its Empire?," all part of the overarching narrative that capitalism and imperialism as exemplified by the United States is falling apart before our eyes.

It is the polar opposite of the idea of American Exceptionalism, a concept that Greenwald takes a machete to in a piece titled The premises and purposes of American exceptionalism, where he savages British-born National Review writer Charles C.W. Cooke for calling America "the greatest country in world history":

It's certainly true that Americans are justifiably proud of certain nationalistic attributes: class mobility, ethnic diversity, religious freedom, large immigrant populations, life-improving technological discoveries, a commitment to some basic liberties such as free speech and press, historical progress in correcting some of its worst crimes. But all of those virtues are found in equal if not, at this point, greater quantity in numerous other countries. Add to that mix America's shameful attributes - its historic crimes of land theft, genocide, slavery and racism, its sprawling penal state, the company it keeps on certain human rights abuses, the aggressive attack on Iraq, the creation of a worldwide torture regime, its pervasive support for the world's worst tyrannies - and it becomes not just untenable, but laughable, to lavish it with that title.

This is precisely the worldview shared by Assange, who sees the United States as the great threat to freedom while conveniently ignoring the free speech and human rights abuses of a country like, let's say, Ecuador.

Of course, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London is where Assange has been holed up for the last year or so, trying to avoid extradition on a rape charge from Sweden. And Ecuador gave Snowden the papers he needed to flee to Russia. Thus, the self-proclaimed defenders of free speech at the vanguard of New Journalism have ample reason to shut their traps about Ecuador's new Organic Communications Law.

Ecuador's sweeping new law--think of it as Obamacare for the Ecuadorian media--has generated virtually no exposure from from bold journalists like Assange, Greenwald, or Snowden. For one thing, all of them would be in violation of the provision in the new law that requires reporters to have a state-approved journalism degree.

Supposed defenders of freedom like Assange appear to take no issue with Ecuador's media regulations that have created a whole new bureaucracy. The rules and regulations are created by the Council of Regulation and Development of Information and Communication. Enforcement will be meted out by the Superintendence of Information and Communication. Then there are The People, represented by the Consultative Council. Of course, this group's decisions are not binding, and it is not clear what the Council will actually do.

The Organic Communications Law is statism at its core. The new Ecuadorian law describes information and communications in terms of advantages given out by the states, calling them part of the "public good" and a "public service." Accordingly, Ecuador now requires that radio frequencies will be doled out on a strict percentage basis with 33 percent going to private institutions, 33 percent going to public institutions, and 34 percent going to community media outlets. Of course, some of the private media outlets that exist now will be turned over to the state to achieve this equity.

Much of the Ecuadorian law is simply a stark, ugly attack on free speech that is sure to have an icy cold chilling effect on criticism of the state by actually mandating the content and presentation of media. As the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog reports:

The document also makes media outlets responsible for the comments made by anonymous users on their websites. It also requires them to publish or broadcast replies to their stories when these affect a person's "dignity, honor or reputation" within 72 hours after a complaint is received. And any correction must appear "with the same characteristics, dimensions and in the same space, section and schedule" the original story received.

And the Committee to Protect Journalists explains the vaguely-worded law could be used to force "good news" coverage like the kind Pravda and other communist state-run media distribute:

After inspecting a hydroelectric project in northern Ecuador last year, President Rafael Correa complained about the scant press coverage of his visit and suggested it was part of a media blackout. "Did the Ecuadoran media conspire to ignore this important event? It seems like that is the case," Correa told the crowd at a town hall meeting. "In this country, good news is not news."

Under Ecuador's new Communications Law, however, journalists may have to pay far more attention to ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other government PR events. Article 18 of the law forbids the "deliberate omission of ... topics of public interest." But this wording is so vague that nearly any action by local, state, or national government official could be considered of public interest.

Then there are the new laws against "media lynching," which the Committe to Protect Journalists says:

is defined as "the dissemination of concerted and reiterative information ... with the purpose of undermining the prestige" of a person or legal entity. Media outlets found violating this provision could be ordered to issue public apologies and would be subject to criminal and civil sanctions that are not specified in the legislation.

Assange closes by emphasizing once again that he wants to push past the concept of individual rights to protect the almighty state, as long as that state is not America. He wants to protect the little guy. Like Ecuador.

These are just some of the important ways in which the message of the cypherpunks goes beyond the struggle for individual liberty. Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries, solidarity between groups with common cause, and the project of global emancipation. It can be used to fight not just the tyranny of the state over the individual but the tyranny of the empire over smaller states.

The cypherpunks have yet to do their greatest work. Join us.

Assange refers to "the project of global emancipation," as in "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!" History has shown time and again how well that emancipation has worked out. 


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