Journalism, transparency and accountability: WikiLeaks and the war in Iraq

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

Conference: The Future of Journalism Conference

Dates: 8-9 September 2011


This paper examines the reporting of the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which has recently emerged as a journalistic force by posting various documents on the internet that were ‘classified, confidential, censored or otherwise withheld from the public’. With collaborators and resources spread across nations, WikiLeaks can be seen as a unique, stateless, ‘irregular’ news organisation powered by anonymous citizen activists.

In exploring the contribution of WikiLeaks to war reporting, this paper draws upon the findings of a comparative study of the online news coverage of six major news organisations – Al Jazeera (English), BBC, CNN, Der Spiegel (International), The Guardian and The New York Times – concerned with WikiLeaks materials pertaining to the conduct of the Iraq war. The textual analysis focuses on the coverage of several controversial events, such as the release of the ‘Collateral Murder’ footage of a US helicopter gunship killing civilians (including a Reuters journalist and his assistant) as well as incidents described in leaked diplomatic cables and war logs. The publication of this material has engendered a running series of global news stories, where the aims and motivations of WikiLeaks itself have come under intense scrutiny. Of particular interest in this study are debates about its status as a form of ‘citizen journalism’, including whether those contributing to it may claim journalistic privileges and protection in the name of a free, independent media.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Chindu Sreedharan and Einar Thorsen