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102nd Anniversary
WikiLeaks -Media at the crossroads

What became the biggest leak of secrets in the history of US foreign policy so far this century also became the most daring lesson for practice of journalism in an era of technology revolutions. WikiLeaks reaffirmed that the mainstream press is in good health and remains necessary for the exercise of democracy. Further, it showed that the Internet is good for journalism. Aside from its political implications, however, WikiLeaks did not change the core of journalism

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FRANK LÓPEZ BALLESTEROS |  EL UNIVERSAL
Monday May 16, 2011  10:00 AM


To the extent that journalism faces substantial challenges due to its key role in society, it needs to be insightful. WikiLeaks -the biggest leak of secrets in the history of US foreign policy- is an invaluable example.

Unraveling the mysteries of political and economic power or explaining the complexities of society is in itself the biggest challenge for journalism.

As time and technologies move forward at an increasingly faster pace, today more than ever new players are joining this process. Communications are going through redefinition and sweeping changes, and WikiLeaks has become a link in the evolutionary chain of journalism.

The dilemma
The boldness of WikiLeaks is apocalyptic: 250,000 cables between the State Department of the United States -i.e. the most powerful nation on the planet- and its embassies were leaked. This showed that the Internet is a double edged sword.

There are two relevant aspects in the WikiLeaks issue. First, the "stakeholders" were Internet activists who advocated free journalism. Second, they left in the hands of the press -a handful of good newspapers- the mission of disclosing such cables, the content of many of which is still embarrassing.

The latter aspect -reliance on the press- showed that good journalism is alive and kicking. But above all, it proved that qualified and committed journalists were required to accomplish the complex task of processing and disseminating information without harming anyone.

Additionally, this affair reaffirmed that the mainstream press is in good health.

In 2006, WikiLeaks emerged as a website for anonymous release of classified and sensitive documents that were made available to journalists and netizens for investigative work.

It actually sought to be an oxygen bottle which could store data that helped to complete the reality on the premise that power should not keep secrets. That is their unshakable principle.

In the words of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the organization emerged in an era of "deep crisis" in the role of journalism. A dark time in which investigation had no room for the media, and even less if material interests are involved.

Spanish daily newspaper El País was one of the first news media that had access to WikiLeaks cables and published them along with French newspaper Le Monde, German magazine Der Spiegel, British newspaper The Guardian, and US newspaper The New York Times in December 2010. "The waves are starting to spread across the world, but I think that geopolitics and journalism will be separated into pre-cablegate and post-cablegate eras."

Controversy over the metamorphosis of journalism after WikiLeaks is complex. For many, in essence, the purpose of the profession will remain the same: to inform. The big difference for some time now lies in the ways and forms that have emerged for disseminating information. That is the real revolution.

Veteran reporter Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, uses subtle verbs to refer to WikiLeaks and its role in history.

For Keller, "viewed from a qualitative standpoint, it (WikiLeaks) does not mean conversion of journalism; it is rather a symptom of what is happening in recent years on the Internet. The same things continue to be done, but now there are new tools and that is outstanding."

At a time when many trumpeted the death of the press and the demise of the Internet, "Wikileaks showed that the mainstream press has an asset that the Internet lacks: trustworthiness. And this stems from two professional values: selection and contextualization, which is summarized in one word -discernment," said Marta Ruiz, an editor of Colombian magazine Semana, which is also publishing the cables.

It should be recognized that the new information and communication technologies are playing a major role in strengthening democracy, to the extent that these new mechanisms have become a benchmark of democracy.

For many people, the incorporation of the Internet into society will not change the essence of democracy. But the Web can transform many mechanisms of democracy, and consequently the political scenario.

WikiLeaks reaffirmed that the mainstream press is in good health and remains indispensable for democracy and its citizens. "In that sense, they (WikiLeaks) were a new source of information, but just that, another source," added Ruiz.

"Certainly, it was shown that the Internet and the mainstream press can live together for a long time," said Ruiz. This is the reason why newspapers are increasingly seeking ways to adapt to new times and they are certainly succeeding at it. That is the challenge of the present century.

Translated by Maryflor Suárez

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