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Brusselsleaks: Can we live in an open society?

Submitted by on March 9, 2011 – 15:30No Comment

UK/US fears over Brus­sels’ chal­lenge to Anglo-Saxon model of mar­kets.” This is Brus­sel­sleaks’ first leak pub­lished in the late Feb­ru­ary. But it is in fact “a mir­ror from [Wik­ileaks] Cable­leaks”, said Brus­sel­sleaks spokesper­son[it] also acted as a test, [Brus­sel­sleaks is] still fine tun­ing a few thing as well as talk­ing to some legal experts to ensure [they] work the best way pos­si­ble.”

Brus­sel­sleaks is a new “place to cen­tral­ize intel­li­gence gath­ered on the inner-workings of the Euro­pean Union”, as explained on their web­site. A lot of deci­sions that impact the whole globe are taken in Brus­sels and many of them hap­pen “behind closed doors” of the Coun­cil or of any other meet­ing of Euro­pean lead­ers. Those deci­sions “are made in secret and it is the right for any demo­c­ra­tic pub­lic to find out how those deci­sions were made”, explains Brus­sel­sleaks. For Brus­sels Pro­gramme Director-Missouri School of Jour­nal­ism and Euro­pean jour­nal­ist Gareth Hard­ing, “diplo­macy is based on the set­tle­ment of secrecy and it has to be. Polit­i­cal dis­cus­sions take place behind closed doors and it should remain so.”

A new inde­pen­dent body based on anonymity

Brus­sel­sleaks is a team of jour­nal­ists, activists, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sion­als and they claim that it should become clear that they are not from any lobby or polit­i­cal group within a few months.

Brus­sel­sleaks spokesper­son pointed out: “the most impor­tant thing for us is to ensure the doc­u­ments [they will receive] are gen­uine, which will be the main chal­lenge”, espe­cially because peo­ple will want to stay anonymous.

The basis of Brusselsleaks’s ide­ol­ogy is founded on anonymity. On their web­site you can sub­mit “some infor­ma­tion in a com­pletely secure – and anony­mous, if pre­ferred – way”. But it seems clear that peo­ple will not give their name if they give any impor­tant secret infor­ma­tion. Researcher at GRAPAX 2 (Research Group in Sup­port of Peace Poli­cies) and PhD stu­dent at ULB (Uni­ver­sité libre de Brux­elles) Sid­ney Leclercq: “I do not imag­ine some­one pub­lish­ing secret doc­u­ments on the web­site giv­ing his name or any other pri­vate infor­ma­tion that could iden­tify them.”

An old ide­ol­ogy of pub­lish­ing secret documents

Noth­ing is really rev­o­lu­tion­ary in the ide­ol­ogy of Wik­ileaks and Brus­sel­sleaks. “The pub­li­ca­tion of secret doc­u­ments has always been a tool of for­eign pol­icy. When nego­ti­a­tions seem to be blocked, states often pub­lish secret doc­u­ments try­ing to change things. It was like that in Copen­hagen in Decem­ber 2009 at the Cli­mate Sum­mit for instance”, explains Sid­ney Leclercq.

On the other hand, scan­dals also appeared because peo­ple wanted to expose an impor­tant fact even if they were not directly involved in the event. Remem­ber Water­gate? A cou­ple of jour­nal­ists inves­ti­gated what seemed to be a sim­ple bur­glary. With the help of an anony­mous whis­tle blower who turned out to be FBI Asso­ciate Direc­tor Mark Felt, they unearthed such a scan­dal that the Pres­i­dent of the United States resigned.

Wik­ileaks’ nov­elty is that you, now, have a kind of secure plat­form that helps you to share and reveal secret information.

In this new sys­tem of pub­li­ca­tion, the result can be pos­i­tive as well as neg­a­tive. “The goal of the pub­li­ca­tion should not be to pub­lish a leak because it is a leak but because it is rel­e­vant”, explains Sid­ney Leclercq. Wik­ileaks’ aim should be to show that some­thing is wrong, to reveal some­thing ille­gal or immoral and to make lead­ers face their responsibilities.

Gareth Hard­ing explains, “absolute free­dom of infor­ma­tion does not exist and I do not think it helps polit­i­cally (…) I have been here in Brus­sels for many years and I can count the num­ber of real scoops, real exclu­sives, sto­ries that really made the dif­fer­ence on one hand.”

Sid­ney Leclercq speak­ing of the pro­vi­sion of trans­parency thanks to Wik­ileaks

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Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion jus­ti­fies the ideology

While Wik­ileaks always pub­lished its leaks on its web­site, man­agers decided to work only with five news­pa­pers around the world for the newest infor­ma­tion. El Pais, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, The New York Times, and The Guardian have received more than 250.000 leaked US diplo­matic cables from Wikileaks.

Wik­ileaks decided to work this way to let jour­nal­ists ana­lyze and process all those infor­ma­tion before pub­lish­ing them and to bring infor­ma­tion to a pub­lic they would not be able to reach with­out tra­di­tional medias.

The prob­lem linked to the five-newspaper process is that some use­ful infor­ma­tion could be unpub­lished because they seem less inter­est­ing for some news­pa­pers. If there was use­ful Hun­gar­ian infor­ma­tion, it could stay buried just because there is no Hun­gar­ian news­pa­per or because it could appear less saleable for the five dailies.

Wik­ileaks, Brus­sel­sleaks, and now?

The mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of new e-leaks would be a good thing to jus­tify their ide­ol­ogy. “The more leaks you have, the more the ide­ol­ogy is jus­ti­fied. But at the same time it makes each of them less vis­i­ble”, ana­lyzes Sid­ney Leclercq.

Sub­se­quently, another prob­lem could appear; if there are too many e-leaks and if they are based on an orga­ni­za­tion or such a secluded part of the soci­ety, like a new e-leak for each coun­try or even within a com­pany or else, that could cre­ate prob­lems. An e-leak is not pos­si­ble within a com­pany because “peo­ple would be afraid to loose their job, but in a coun­try, why not?”, explains Brus­sel­sleaks spokesman.

“A com­pletely trans­par­ent soci­ety is not pos­si­ble. Every­one wants to keep a secret part in his life. If every­thing is vis­i­ble to every­one, then social con­tacts could suf­fer from it. This trans­par­ent soci­ety is not a good solu­tion”, explains Sid­ney Leclercq. Gareth Hard­ing also explains that some part of the soci­ety should stay pri­vate; “hav­ing worked in pol­i­tics myself, I real­ized that there is some­thing that best should stay private.”

Gareth Hard­ing speak­ing about a com­pletely pub­lic society

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Gareth Hard­ing thinks Wik­ileaks is not journalism

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