It’s hard to decide whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a hero or a criminal. What’s much clearer is that we live in an era in which we get far too much junk information about celebrities, scandals and unfounded, unscientific notions about things like Mayan end-of-the-world prophecies, and not nearly enough real information about what governments are doing.
People who abhor WikiLeaks and Assange have made it very difficult for that organization to operate, by cutting off its main funding mechanisms. In December 2010, under pressure from some members of Congress, Visa, MasterCard and Pay Pal announced that they would no longer accept transactions for WikiLeaks. Those donations represented an estimated 95 percent of WikiLeaks’ funding. Then, according to the New York Times, WikiLeaks “suspended publication of documents because of financial distress, which it said was a result of what it called ‘a banking blockade.’”
Now, a new non-profit group advocating more transparent government has entered the picture. Launched in December 2012, the Freedom of the Press Foundation says that it plans to act as a conduit for donations to organizations like WikiLeaks. The foundation’s board of directors includes Daniel Ellsberg, a hero of the freedom-of-information world for his actions in the 1970s in leaking the Pentagon Papers, which exposed U.S. policy in Viet Nam.
The foundation’s website outlines it purpose this way:
The Freedom of the Press Foundation is dedicated to helping promote and fund aggressive, public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government. We accept tax-deductible donations to a variety of journalism organizations that push for government transparency and accountability.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation is built on the recognition that this kind of transparency journalism — from publishing the Pentagon Papers and exposing Watergate, to uncovering the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and CIA secret prisons — doesn’t just happen. It requires dogged work by journalists, and often, the courage of whistleblowers and others who work to ensure that the public actually learns what it has a right to know.
But in a changing economic and technological age, media organizations are increasingly susceptible to corporate or government pressure. This can lead to watered-down or compromised coverage, or worse: censorship.
Wikileaks will benefit from the new foundation, but so will other groups. So, if you’re not sure that WikiLeaks is a great idea, but you agree that we need more—not less—information about what government is doing, take heart: The Freedom of the Press Foundation will also be taking contributions for:
MuckRock News, which serves as a proxy and a guide for people seeking to make Freedom of Information requests;
The UpTake, a citizen journalism site that generates online video news;
The National Security Archive, a repository of declassified government documents.
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.