To paraphrase the young lady on the balcony in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” who says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by …
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To paraphrase the young lady on the balcony in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” who says, “What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” I ask today, “Is news by any other name still news?”
Although I’ve asked this question before, it’s become important again in recent days as I’ve followed the international saber rattling over the charges, extradition requests and asylum granted for Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.
A cause célèbre, yes? But maybe not the whole story.
Not that the Assange-asylum issue isn’t news; it’s big news, with heads of governments in Australia, Europe, Latin America and the United Kingdom jockeying for position and pointing to one another at someone else behind their hands.
No, I’m asking the question — “Is news by any other name still news?” — because I have maintained all along to anyone who would listen that if Assange had named the organization “WikiNews” instead of “WikiLeaks,” this whole story would have played out differently.
Why wouldn’t a name like “WikiLeaks” get people up in arms, literally? Why wouldn’t any government be incensed about material blatantly and globally labeled as “leaked?” Why wouldn’t agencies whose sole purpose is to prevent “leaks” then descend with a fury on those who allowed and perpetrated the “leaking?”
On the other hand, though, news outlets all over the world take great pride — and go to great lengths — to “break” news stories, some of which come from “unnamed sources close to the situation.” Are these considered leaks? Breaking news? Both?
Let’s face it, authority and the media have been grappling for centuries. Why?
Because freedom of the press improves transparency of information, and transparency of information creates a better society for all people. It’s the different definitions of transparency that get everyone’s dander up.
For example, in its landmark decision on the Pentagon Papers in 1971, our own U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose corruption in government.” (Note, however, that the court ruled that the government failed to meet the heavy burden of proof required in this case, and its decision did not give the press unlimited freedom to publish classified documents.)
But news is not just about corruption, or even just about government, for that matter.
The Special Olympics are news. Syria is news. The Pro Cycling Challenge is news. Dancing with the Stars is the news. The price of gas, the weather, the wildfires are news; the tragic shooting in Aurora is news.
And, to varying degrees, all of us need this news. With the advance of digital technology and the Internet, we can access all the news we want. In fact, we can gorge on the news; it’s up to us to be responsible consumers of the media.
But that’s a topic for another column.
Are some of the documents on WikiLeaks explosive? Yes. Are some embarrassing, some horrifying? Yes and yes. Are some of the documents illuminating, enlightening? Of course.
I do understand that classifying some information is a valid standard.
I also know that improved transparency of information in society comes from a free press.
Consider this, too: there are people who are free today — or are becoming free, or are helping others to become free — because of uncensored news … leaked news, breaking news, or both.
I’ve worked on both side of this debate, in government and in the media, and I remain convinced that “WikiNews” would have been a more palatable portal.
With fewer struggles, WikiNews could have provided the kind of service that WikiLeaks is fighting to provide for people in free democratic societies, and for people who want to live in one.
Andrea W. Doray is a writer from Arvada who believes that transparency is not invisible anymore. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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