The governmental and corporate document leaking site, Wikileaks, has been awarded Amnesty International's New Media Award, for its role in the production of the revelatory document, "Kenya: The Cry of Blood - Report on Extra-Judicial Killings and Disappearances, Sep 2008". The attribution of this award is indicative of recognition of the work done by the site by bodies similarly concerned by the exposure of human rights abuses. Moreover, the accolade should function as an alert to the mainstream press to the exisitence of a penetrative and useful journalistic resource.
The report was based on evidence provided by Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which suggested that more than 500 men were killed or made to disappear in a police campaign. As expressed by Wikileaks, this may have been 'with the connivance' of the Kenyan Government. The document is not publicly available in Kenya. On Friday, a UN special rapporteur investigating the events called for the resignation of the top Kenyan officials, emphasising the political significance of the evidence revealed in the report, and the utility of the online resource in global campaigns for social justice.
In an interview with journalism.co.uk, Julian Assange, the editor of Wikileaks discussed the relationship of the site and the press. Prior to the events in Kenya being brought into the public eye by the work of Sunday Times journalist, John Swain, the press was relatively indifferent to the blood spilling across the East African nation. Even though Wikileaks ran the story on the front page for over a week, "Most journalists didn't care about it. Even regular [Wikileaks] readers didn't care about it".
The current condition of news reporting is a widespread concern, as publishers strive to cut costs and journalists avoid entanglement in stories with potential legal ramifications, it is unsurprising that investigative pursuits have been increasingly neglected. Assange is determined to reverse these detrimental trends:
"As newspapers cut back on most expensive journalism, part of our goal is to decrease the input costs, by [publishing] those documents, by decreasing the legal costs.
"I do know that mainstream journalists sit on an enormous number of leaked documents for economic reasons".
Could the model and ethos on which Wikileaks functions provide a solution to the current impasse in quality reporting? According to the website, Wikileaks is "a multi-jurisdictional organization to protect internal dissidents, whistleblowers, journalists and bloggers who face legal or other threats related to publishing". It sees its responsibility as involving the publication of leaked documents, which at the moment stand at 1.2 million, mostly offered by "dissident communities and anonymous individuals". To concretise their value, the next stage requires "someone familiar with that material" to investigate it and put it in political context. Once that is done, then it becomes of public interest".
It is a disconcerting awareness that the mainstream Western press remains largely ignorant of the work that the organisation does in the developing world. In order to achieve maximum impact and subsequent leverage to generate any changes in situations, leaked documents must be brought into the public domain. To use a very different case but pertinent example, the expenses row in the UK has recently emphasised the fact that newspapers remain arguably the most effective medium of raising public consciousness. Thus, if newspapers are to continue as the principle carriers of reliable investigative journalism, whether stories concern Kenya or the UK, it is in their interests to capitalise upon the groundwork produced by such organisations, which hold exposure as a crucial step towards the ultimate aim of rendering social, political and corporate justice.
Indeed, Assange is clear in his perception of the overall dynamic. This is expressed in his conviction that investigative journalism is 'a large driver of political reform', which, as it is also the principle aim of the project, it is logical that the two concepts should cooperate.