Julian Assange, Anonymity and Press Freedom

On the 14th April 2020, Helen writes in WISE Up Action


Judge Vanessa Baraitser, currently presiding over Julian Assange’s extradition hearings, proposed on April 7thto remove reporting restrictions on the identity of a key witness in the case. The witness, known as ‘AA’ in court, is Assange’s partner: her identity was already known to the Court, the defence and the prosecution. ‘AA’ asked to remain anonymous to protect herself and the couple’s young children from intrusions by the media. Assange’s defence team cited Article 8 of the Human Rights Act which “protects your right to respect for your private life, your family life, your home and your correspondence (letters, telephone calls and emails, for example)”(1) The judge ruled that “the woman’s right to a private family life was outweighed by the need for open justice.” (2)

The defence team argued that, without such restrictions, ‘AA’ and her children risked ‘disproportionate’ interference with their private lives and stated it would lodge an appeal with the High Court. Until the outcome of the appeal the reporting restrictions would have remained in place.

However, on April 11th, Wikileaks released a recording of Assange’s partner, Stella Morris (3), presumably to pre-empt further press enquiry and intrusion.

Who was behind this move to force a reluctant young mother to come forward?

According to the Independent’s report of the hearing on the 7th April, Judge Baraitser’s ruling followed a submission by the PA news agency via telephone conference to the court.” (4) So what is the “PA news agency” and why would a British judge listen to them?

This article, explaining the nature of the Press Association was written in the days following the April 7th hearing, but since the release of the interview with Stella Morris it was decided to publish the article with modifications to update it appropriately. The interview with Stella Morris is moving and courageous. Having spent years trying to protect her young family from media intrusion the cruel pressures of Baraitser and the Press Agency, and the real and present danger that Assange could die in prison have forced her to speak out.

The Press Association

The ‘PA news agency’ is the Press Association, which was rebranded last year as the PA Media Group Ltd.

A press agency is an “organisation that gathers, writes, and distributes news from around a nation or the world to newspapers, periodicals, radio and television broadcasters, government agencies, and other users.’ It supplies ‘news’ to its subscribers and “All the mass media depend upon the agencies for the bulk of the news, even including those few that have extensive news-gathering resources of their own.” (5)The Press Association is the national press agency for the UK and Ireland and contains “a diverse portfolio of specialist media companies spanning news & information, data, technology, marketing and communications.” (6)It was the source, in 2009, of 70% of all news stories in five ‘most prestigious Fleet Street titles”.(7)

It might therefore seem that the Press Association’s  highly effective intervention in the Assange case was public-spirited and disinterested, concerned only keep the public fully informed.

In fact of course this was an intervention by an exceedingly powerful, well-connected and inter-connected  business bloc, whose shareholders and directors have links with finance, government, industry and digital communication companies.

. . .

Read whole article in WISE Up Action