Written by Jacob Kriss
It’s been a few months since we’ve heard anything from Julian Assange, the flamboyant founder of anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, but apparently the global flag bearer of the open information movement just can’t stand to see himself out of the headlines. So I wasn’t surprised to read a few days ago that the controversial figure had landed himself a new gig, one he could pull off despite being under house arrest in Britain: hosting a TV show.
The show, called “The World Tomorrow,” is scheduled for weekly broadcasts on state-funded Russia Today for 12 weeks, and was billed by WikiLeaks as hosting, “an eclectic range of guests, who are stamping their mark on the future: politicians, revolutionaries, intellectuals, artists and visionaries.”
As a former journalist relatively well-acquainted with Assange’s tumultuous past, I was intrigued to see Assange try his hand at, well, something like journalism. Revered by some and reviled by others, Assange is known for championing a progressive cause, and I seriously doubted the level of objectivity he could bring to substantive political and social dialogue in the form of an interview show.
The results, I came to discover, were a mix of what I expected and some surprises. True to form, Assange pulled no punches on his first episode, featuring Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, political party, and, according to most Western governments, terrorist organization. As Nasrallah’s obvious opposition to Israel seemed much in line with Assange’s support for Palestinian causes, I expected Assange to lob his questions over the plate – but that wasn’t quite the case.
Instead, Assange began with pointed questions for Nasrallah, including topics such as reported corruption in Hezbollah and accusations of indiscriminate Hezbollah attacks against Israeli civilians. Assange also addressed Hezbollah’s unwillingness to openly support efforts by Syrian rebels to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power, despite Hezbollah’s support of Arab Spring uprisings in other nations. Was there a limit to civilian deaths, Assange asked, that must be reached before Hezbollah could no longer support efforts to negotiate a political settlement?
Still, the questioning could hardly be described as truly pressing, and later lines proved a bit more revealing of Assange’s obvious bent. For example, why did the United States government ban and “fear” Al-Manar, the Lebanon-based, pro-Palestinian satellite TV network, when it purported to advocate free speech, and how did Nasrallah find the ability to his inspire followers?
However, no can deny Assange’s charisma, and ultimately, the inaugural episode proved more geared toward objective discussion than what I expected. There’s no doubt Assange’s high profile will draw further big names in international politics (they’re not announced yet), and after one viewing of “The World Tomorrow,” I’m more to apt to pay attention than I thought I would be.