The independent London newspaper

Don’t lose sight of press freedom in case against Assange

18 April, 2019

JULIAN Assange is a divisive figure. His arrest has divided radicals – some women Labour MPs, including in Jeremy Corbyn’s entourage, want him sent back to Sweden to face the original sexual charges, other expected supporters say his WikiLeaks disclosures put lives at risk.

But to let Sweden handle him, apart from dampening any protest in the UK, will effectively shorten the final journey to the US where he could face decades in jail.

We believe Assange’s arrest is essentially a violation of press freedom. This is always under threat even in this democracy. Assange is a journalist. WiliLeaks are publishers.

He has published damning material that has exposed wrongdoings by various governments. The video showing a helicopter gunning down civilians in Iraq, including two Reuter stringer journalists, has angered Washington.

His critics, aware of the press freedom argument, deny he is a journalist. Somehow they see him as simply a leaker of government documents. But not a journalist.

We are reminded of the exposures leading to the death of Dr Kelly in the Iraq war when the note-taking skills of the reporter Andrew Gilligan was derided by the mainstream media – again the need to silence the messenger.

Villain or hero, Assange now faces a trial. Let’s hope the right of journalists to tell the truth will prevail.


Campaigner’s NHS truth

NARENDRA Makanji, the lifelong anti-racist campaigner who has died, forced the door open for black and ethnic minorities in all walks of public life.

He was a chairman of the Whittington at a time when there were few, if any, non white people sitting on hospital boards.

His sacking and replacement with a management consultant, in 2007, led to a storm of protest over institutionalised racism in the National Health Service.

There has for many years been a high number of BAME workers in hospitals, including medical practitioners and clinical staff. But this has never been reflected in the leadership positions.

Narendra was constantly raising the issue of representation and no doubt his activism and treatment informed seminal research in 2014 by Roger Kline.

His Snowy White Peaks of the NHS report also exposed the scale of persistence of discrimination in hospitals and showed how it was just as stark in public bodies like NHS England, Monitor and the Care Quality Commission. It led to national action.

Boards are now forced to publish monthly data in reports. But things have basically stayed the same. While some non-executives have been appointed, the Whittington’s executive directors remain all white. As they are at UCLH, and the Royal Free.

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