Columbia Journalism Profs Voice Concern over Wikileaks Prosecution

As the international controversy over Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange continues to escalate, faculty at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism – the Dart Center’s host institution – have written to U.S. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, warning that criminal prosecution of the controversial site could endanger all investigative journalists.  

"While we hold varying opinions of Wikileaks' 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, potentially chilling investigative journalism and other First Amendment-protected activity," the letter's signatories wrote.

Read the text of the letter here.

In a related development,  Dart Centre Australasia, the Dart Center’s independent partner in the Asia-Pacific region, has called on Australia’s government to condemn threats of violence against Wikileaks and its founder and ensure that their rights are protected. The letter to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was approved by the directors of Dart Australasia, a Melbourne-based organization working in partnership with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

The Obama Administration is weighing whether to prosecute Assange and Wikileaks over dissemination of a trove of some 250,000 diplomatic cables from U.S. State Department files. Assange was freed on bail in London Thursday, where he had been held as a flight risk, as he fight extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual offenses against two women, which he says are politically motivated. 

Meanwhile, publication and analysis of the vetted documents from Wikileaks continues, as teams of journalists at the New York Times, the Guardian of London, El Pais, LeMonde, Der Spiegel and other news organizations scrutinize the actions and perceptions of U.S. diplomats abroad.

In a related development, the U.S. Air Force blocked access from its computers to news websites that have published articles on the Wikileaks documents.