WikiLeaks declares war on banking blockade
Today sees the launch of the Freedom of the Press Foundation − a new initiative inspired by the fight against the two-year-long extra-judicial financial embargo imposed on WikiLeaks by U.S. financial giants including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and the Bank of America.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation, an initiative of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) co-founder John Perry Barlow, former Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the actor John Cusack and others, will crowd-source fundraising and support for organizations or individuals under attack for publishing the truth. It aims to promote “aggressive, public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption and law-breaking in government”.
Over the last two years the blockade has stopped 95 per cent of contributions to WikiLeaks, running primary cash reserves down from more than a million dollars in 2010 to under a thousand dollars, as of December 2012. Only an aggressive attack against the blockade will permit WikiLeaks to continue publishing through 2013.
The new initiative, combined with a recent victory in Germany, means contributions to WikiLeaks now have tax-deductible status throughout the United States and Europe.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ publisher, said: “We’ve fought this immoral blockade for two long years. We smashed it in the courts. We smashed it in the Treasury. We smashed it in France. We smashed it in Germany. And now, with strong and generous friends who still believe in First Amendment rights, we’re going to smash it in the United States as well.”
The Foundation’s first ‘bundle’ will crowd-source funds for WikiLeaks, the National Security Archive, The UpTake and MuckRock News. Donors will be able to use a slider to set how much of their donation they wish each organization to receive and can donate to WikiLeaks using their credit cards. The Foundation holds 501(c) charitable status, so donations are tax-deductible in the U.S. Other courageous press organizations will be added as time goes by. It will not be possible to see by banking records what portion of a donor’s contribution, if any, goes to WikiLeaks.
It is admitted by Visa, MasterCard and others that the blockade is entirely as a result of WikiLeaks’ publications. In fact, the U.S. Treasury has cleared WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks has won against Visa in court, but the blockade continues.
John Perry Barlow, a board member of the new Foundation, says the initiative aims to achieve more than just crowd-sourced fundraising: “We hope it makes a moral argument against these sorts of actions. But it could also be the basis of a legal challenge. We now have private organizations with the ability to stifle free expression. These companies have no bill of rights that applies to their action – they only have terms of service.”
The WikiLeaks banking blockade showed how devastating such extra-judicial measures can be for not-for-profit investigative journalism and free press organizations. Initiatives such as the Freedom of the Press Foundation are vital to sustain a truly independent free press.
In heavily redacted European Commission documents recently released by WikiLeaks, MasterCard Europe admitted that U.S. Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joseph Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King were both directly involved in instigating the blockade.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald − also on the FPF board − recently wrote: “What possible political value can the internet serve, or journalism generally, if the U.S. government, outside the confines of law, is empowered − as it did here − to cripple the operating abilities of any group which meaningfully challenges its policies and exposes its wrongdoing?… That the U.S. government largely succeeded in using extra-legal and extra-judicial means to cripple an adverse journalistic outlet is a truly consequential episode: nobody, regardless of one’s views on WikiLeaks, should want any government to have that power.”
But what of the chance these U.S. companies will blockade the FPF like they did WikiLeaks? “Let Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and all the rest block the independent Freedom of the Press Foundation. Let them demonstrate to the world once again who they really are,” said Mr Assange.