Extradition fight: Who is Julian Assange, why is Sweden seeking him?

A British court is hearing a final appeal from Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks whistleblower site, to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sex crime allegations. Here are four questions about the man and the case. 

3. WikiLeaks: Is it Journalism?

Faculty from the Columbia University School of Journalism wrote a letter to President Obama in January 2011, condemning any criminal charges against Julian Assange associated with WikiLeaks.  

The faculty argued he was engaging in journalism, writing; “while we hold varying opinions of Wikileak’s methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables Wikileaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment.  Any prosecution of Wikileaks’ staff for receiving, possessing or publishing classified materials will set a dangerous precedent for reporters in any publication or medium.” 

But is WikiLeaks journalism?  

The organization describes itself as a “media organization,” which causes some to raise an eyebrow with concern.  

The Daily Beast writes, “Wikileaks is not a traditional newspaper, magazine, or broadcast. But in the digital-media era, new sources of information are being gathered under the more general rubric. One need not view Julian Assange as a journalist to believe that publishing the diplomatic cables is protected under freedom of the press.”

The release of confidential documents obtained by WikiLeaks sparked conversations related to the use of classified information by students as well.  In the fall of 2010, some academic institutions encouraged students to shy away from visiting the WikiLeaks website, for fear it would harm their ability to work for the US government in the future. 

“Engaging in these activities [reading and linking to WikiLeaks] would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government,” wrote Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs’ Office of Career Services, according to Wired. The school, however, did later clarify it was only passing along the guidance of an alum working in the federal government, and as an institution fully supports freedom of speech.

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