An Oslo-based newspaper reportedly has become the only medium in the world that’s secured unlimited access to more than 250,000 documents initially leaked to the non-profit organization WikiLeaks. Newspaper Aftenposten’s access seems to have spoiled WikiLeaks’ strategy to retain control over the vast array of classified material mostly originating from US embassies around the globe.
Aftenposten has earlier disclosed that it had gained access to all the WikiLeaks documents that started being made public last month. WikiLeaks itself had intended to control their distribution through exclusive agreements with several major media outlets — including, among others, the Guardian in the UK, El Pais in Spain, Le Monde in France and Der Spiegel in Germany — which had been invited to participate in their publication. Those media outlets have since been releasing documents and writing about their contents in cooperation with WikiLeaks.
On Wednesday, Norway’s main business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that now WikiLeaks seems to have lost that control. Aftenposten, according to DN, gained access to all 251,287 documents with no strings attached and has been publishing stories about the contents of many over the past several days, without always publishing the original documents themselves.
“I have no comment on how we secured access to the documents,” Aftenposten’s news editor Ole Erik Almlid told DN. “We never reveal our sources, not in this case either.” DN also reported that WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson had no immediate comment.
(PICAPP PHOTO ABOVE: WikiLeaks director Julian Assange, leaving the High Court in London last week after being released from custody.)
Almlid has earlier said in his own newspaper that Aftenposten has not paid anyone anything for the documents, and that his editorial staff will use their standard journalistic criteria when selecting which documents to write about. Almlid has said Aftenposten is aware that the contents of some documents can involve both personal and state security concerns, which will be taken into consideration.
‘Free to publish…’ or not
“We’re free to do what we want with these documents,” Almlid told DN. “We’re free to publish the documents or not publish the documents, we can publish on the Internet or on paper. We are handling these documents just like all other journalistic material to which we have gained access.”
Publication, of course, is in the Norwegian language, leaving the contents of the documents subject to translation from their original English and restricting their consumption, at least initially, to readers who can understand Norwegian. Aftenposten shut down its own English-language news service two years ago.
Aftenposten is part of the Media Norge group owned by media concern Schibsted, making it partners with other Norwegian newspapers in, for example, Bergen, Stavanger and Kristiansand. Staff on those papers are also helping in the effort to sift through the WikiLeaks documents, with Almlid telling DN that around 20 journalists are involved.
They’ve also sought some international help, reported DN, sending out e-mails to reporters around the world to seek advice on what issues Aftenposten should search for in the documents.
WikiLeaks itself has been under enormous pressure, not least from the US government which is not at all happy that diplomatic communication it thought was confidential is now being revealed on a daily basis. Major US banks and credit card companies have cut off WikiLeaks’ access to funding from donors and WikiLeaks’ director Julian Assange has been held in custody.
Asked whether Aftenposten now worried that it would incur the wrath of the US government, Almlid said: “I have not thought to use any time to think about that.”
(EDITORIAL NOTE: The editor and publisher of “Views and News from Norway” helped build up and worked for Aftenposten’s English news service from 1999 until it was shut down in a cost-cutting move in November 2008.)