Wikileaks must be accountable for results of leaks

We published an editorial on April 12, 2010 that asked if anonymity, epitomized by Wikileaks, was the future of journalism. We argued that the organization deserves “the respect of people everywhere who believe information should be free.” Yet in the months since we first supported the publication of the now-infamous “Collateral Murder” video, Wikileaks has gone from a minor inconvenience to a serious concern of governments around the world. The most controversial of its recent actions was — in concert with The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel — publishing 77,000 classified reports from Afghanistan.

We do not oppose the release of these documents simply because the American government decided they should be classified. We do not oppose the release because it could be embarrassing to the United States, to Afghanistan, or to any other political, corporate, or social entity. We do, however, oppose the seeming lack of concern Wikileaks and its leaders — founder Julian Assange in particular — have for the unintended consequences of their actions.

One would think that someone who named a video “Collateral Murder” would realize that actions can have collateral damage. By releasing tens of thousands of documents without thoroughly cleaning them of the names of Afghan translators and contacts, Assange and his organization are responsible, albeit indirectly, for any reprisals taken against them and their families.

Respected journalistic organizations follow a set of ethical guidelines that protect sources and weigh the value of a story against its capacity for harm. They have a structure of editorial responsibility that ensures anything that goes to print is reviewed by multiple people. If Wikileaks has such a structure, it is hidden within its secret organizational system. Wikileaks has no accountability except public disapproval.
As long as Assange, and by extension Wikileaks, continues to take actions without fully appreciating their consequences and ethical implications, he will remain only an information broker, not a journalist.