The media politics of WikiLeaks: public service or enemy of state?

Authors: Thorsen, E., Sreedharan, C. and Allan, S.

Conference: The Media Studies Conference

Dates: 6-8 July 2011


This session will examine the news discourse of WikiLeaks, which has recently emerged as a global political force by publishing documents that were “classified, confidential, censored or otherwise withheld from the public”. With collaborators and resources spread across nations, it can be seen as a unique, stateless, “irregular” news organisation, powered by anonymous citizen journalists.

Our research provides a comparative textual analysis of the discourse surrounding four key leaks in 2010 - the Collatoral Murder helicopter video, the Afghan War Logs, the Iraqi War Logs and Cablegate (the US Embassy Cables). Specifically we will compare how WikiLeaks packaged its publications of raw and largely unmediated information, to the traditional newspaper narratives of those organisations that worked with WikiLeaks on each publication. Primary focus will therefore be on news reports from the original partners, the Guardian (UK), the New York Times (US), and Der Spiegel (Germany), but attention will also be given to other news organisations that collaborated with WikiLeaks at a later stage.

The leaks created media outcry and a backlash not only against the “scandals”, but also about the way WikiLeaks operates – its quest for transparency and disclosure for the self-proclaimed greater good. Familiar assumptions underpinning any evaluative appraisal about the changing role of professional journalism in the digital age are recast when contrasted with such citizen-centred alternatives. In light of our comparative analysis, the session will explore how this apparent democratisation of participation enriches and challenges traditional reportorial norms and values.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Chindu Sreedharan and Einar Thorsen