In April 2010, a shocking video of an American helicopter firing upon a group of Iraqi journalists on the ground in Bagdad stunned mainstream media and the diplomatic world, and inspired a global debate about the relationship between news outlets and the governments they report on. The video, titled Collateral Murder, was released by WikiLeaks, a whistle-blowing non-profit organization that since its inception has aimed to shine light on the operations of governments and corporations around the world. Founded by former computer hacker Julian Assange, as well as a group of technologists, dissidents and activists, WikiLeaks is guided by the premise that democracy works best when citizens are aware of state and military operations, and can hold governments accountable to their actions.
Historically, large media groups consult with government sources before releasing potentially sensitive information, in order to leverage these relationships for greater access to information. WikiLeaks has challenged this process by eschewing such negotiations and releasing classified memos, diplomatic cables, videos, and other materials directly to the public via its website. “Publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people,” states WikiLeaks’ mission. “Better scrutiny leads to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society’s institutions, including government, corporations and other organizations. A healthy, vibrant, and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.” WikiLeaks’ critics, with the U.S. government at the helm, have countered that the organization’s practices have endangered military and intelligence personnel as well as their civilian sources.
WikiLeaks operates with a small all-volunteer staff as well as a network of 800 to 1,000 experts who advise on issues such as encryption, vetting information, and programming. Its material is housed on servers around the globe–outside of the jurisdiction of any single institution or government.