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50 People Who Matter 2010 | 23. Julian Assange

WikiLeaks legend.

The arrival of WikiLeaks is one of the most exciting developments in the enduring struggle of ordinary people for the right to call secret power to account. This is what journalism should do.

For all the lip-service paid to Edmund Burke's idea of a fourth estate, the media remain an extension of the established order. The current wars demonstrate this. Instead of exposing the lies that have led to the carnage, journalists, with honourable exceptions, have amplified and echoed them. Scott McClellan, George W Bush's former press secretary, says his administration relied on the media's "complicit enablers".

WikiLeaks, says its founder Julian Assange, has "created a space that permits a form of journalism which lives up to the name that journalism has always tried to establish for itself". This year, WikiLeaks has released tens of thousands of official documents that describe the casual, almost industrial killing of civilians, assassination squads, and attempts at cover-up.

Anyone watching the leaked cockpit video of an Apache helicopter gunning down cameramen and children in Baghdad will not forget the pilot's reaction: "Nice." Having witnessed the brutalising effects of war, I felt like cheering when this was exposed and I read that it was viewed 4.8 million times in one week. This is the new "space" for a truth-telling we need urgently, as great power promotes its "perpetual war" and strives for what it calls "information dominance".

I have got to know Julian Assange, and what strikes me most about him is the unabashed morality he invests in WikiLeaks. It is unusual to hear the words: "The goal is justice, the method is transparency." He reminds me of one of our compatriots, Wilfred Burchett, the courageous reporter who incurred the wrath of the powerful by exposing the "atomic plague" of the Hiroshima bomb. Like Burchett, Assange has made some serious enemies for blowing such a loud whistle; the Pentagon has already threatened to "terminally marginalise" WikiLeaks. And this is his great risk and his honour.

I asked him what he had learned most from his glimpses of rampant power. "In one way or another I've been reading generals' emails since I was 17," he said (he is 39), "and what I see now is a vast, sprawling estate that is becoming more and more secretive and uncontrolled. "This is not a sophisticated conspiracy; it is a movement of self-interest to produce an end result that is [the wars in] Iraq and Afghanistan, which are used to wash money out of the US tax base and back to [arms] companies like Northrop Grumman and Raytheon." Another release of leaked documents is due soon.

I salute such principled audacity.

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John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 27 September 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

Photo: Getty Images
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It's time for the government to think again about Hinkley Point

The government's new nuclear power station is a white elephant that we simply don't need.

Today I will welcome Denis Baupin, Vice President of the French Assembly, to Hinkley.

His own choice to come and visit the site of the proposed new nuclear power station reflects his strong desire to prevent the UK disappearing up a dangerous dark alley in terms of energy policy. It also takes place as France takes a totally different path, with the French government recently adopting a law which will reduce nuclear energy in the country.

Greens have opposed Hinkley ever since the government announced its nuclear strategy. Hinkley, with its state aid and an agreed strike price of £92.50 per megawatt, has always been financially and legally suspect but it is now reaching the level of farce. So much so that George Osborne is required to be economical with the truth in front of a House of Lords committee because he cannot find anything honest to say about why this is a good deal for the British people.

Mr Baupin and I will join hundreds of protestors – and a white elephant – to stand in solidarity against this terrible project. The demonstration is taking place under a banner of the triple risks of Hinkley. 

First, there are the safety and technological risks. It is clear that the Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) – the design proposed for Hinkley C – simply does not work. France’s nuclear safety watchdog has found multiple malfunctioning valves that could cause meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US.  The steel reactor vessel, which houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity, was also found to have serious anomalies that increase the risk of it cracking. Apart from the obvious safety risks, the problems experienced by the EPR reactors being built at Flammanvile in France and Olkiluoto in Finland have pushed the projects years behind schedule.

Secondly, Hinkley poses risks to our energy security. Hinkley is supposed to produce 7% of the UK's energy. But we now know there will be no electricity from the new nuclear plant until at least 2023. This makes power blackouts over the next decade increasingly likely and the only way to avoid them is to rapidly invest in renewable energy, particularly onshore wind. Earlier this week Bloomberg produced a report showing that onshore wind is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in both the UK and Germany. But instead of supporting onshore wind this government is undermining it by attacking subsidies to renewables and destroying jobs in the sector. 

Thirdly, there is the risk of Chinese finance. In a globalised world we are expected to consider the option of allowing foreign companies and governments to control our essential infrastructure. But it is clear that in bequeathing our infrastructure we lose the political control that strengthens our security. The Chinese companies who will be part of the deal are part owned by the Chinese government and therefore controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. What a toppy-turvy world globalisation has created, where our Conservative British government is inviting the Chinese Communist party to control our energy infrastructure. It also seems that China National Nuclear Company is responsible for the manufacture of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Of course it is the Chinese people who suffer most, being at the hands of an oppressive government and uncontrolled companies which show little respect for employment rights or environmental standards. By offering money to such companies from British consumers through their energy bills our government is forcing us to collude in the low human rights and environmental standards seen in China.  

Research I commissioned earlier this year concluded we can transform the South West, not with nuclear, but with renewables. We can generate 100 per cent of our energy needs from renewables within the next 20-30 years and create 122,000 new quality jobs and boost the regional economy by over £4bn a year.

The white elephant of Hinkley looks increasingly shaky on its feet. Only the government’s deeply risky ideological crusade against renewables and in favour of nuclear keeps it standing. It’s time for it to fall and for communities in the South West to create in its place a renewable energy revolution, which will lead to our own Western Powerhouse. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.