Unlike his previous endeavours, Julian Assange’s present decision to publish 250,000 unredacted State Department cables has been met by almost universal rebuke; furthermore, press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has revoked its once staunch support for WikiLeaks. These harsh oppositions are premised upon the fact that source protection was not judiciously employed, which means that specific archived documents – including some of the 700 cables reportedly sent from the American embassy based in Singapore – would have compromised the identities and corresponding safety of many activists, providers and even whistle-blowers.
WikiLeaks’s dogged determination to keep governments free and transparent this time round has been achieved at the expense of considerable individuals; however, the release of the information can prove to be productively beneficial for Singapore.
In the bigger picture, the assorted opinions presented in the American correspondence can accord nuanced advantages to our foreign affairs administrators, and allow them to negotiate more effectively in the global diplomatic arena. While it is unlikely for these on-the-ground assessments to dramatically derail bilateral relations, our diplomats – cognisant of the uncensored, frank views by their counterparts over the years – would be empowered to make intelligent decisions whenever necessary.
On the other hand, in the economic and socio-political context, the plethora of cables expounding upon Singaporean issues – such as press and media freedom, government control, progressions in the political landscape et cetera – has already heightened necessary discourse on these concerns. This is particularly true when the perspectives purportedly run in parallel with points held by local observers and online commentators. The materials can provide opportunities to corroborate with insights on the need for improvements and development, and even provide ideas for further policy suggestions.
Paying A Price
Still, there is no doubting that the revelations have functioned as a double-edged sword. The convenient searchable format provided by WikiLeaks has proliferated content that can be readily accessed by regular web-users. While the ease of these functions have allowed constructive criticisms of our institutions to surface – for instance, the proposition that “Singapore journalists … are increasingly frustrated with [imposed] limits on their domestic reporting” – with other proposals for key recommendations; nonetheless, the names highlighted would place the persons in uncomfortable positions.
This phenomenon would be more pronounced for civil servants or professionals occupying more influential public posts. Therefore, a balance has to be struck between the release of information, and protecting the identities of the sources; otherwise, the persons would find it difficult to operate or manoeuvre in their workplaces. The freedom to information should not be blindly pursued at the costs of lives and livelihoods.