Assange: I’ll be called a traitor, interviewing radicals
RT: Why did you decide to do your own show and become a TV host?
Julian Assange: There are two reasons. First of all, being under house arrest for so long, it’s nice to have an occasional visitor and to learn more about the world. And given that the conversations we were having are quite interesting, why not film them and show other people what was going on.
That’s one reason. The second reason is that, as someone who’s given a lot of interviews before, and who’s been on the receiving end of very aggressive interview styles, I found that I wasn’t giving much away in these interviews at all. Pretty quickly you learn to just give your standard defensive responses so people don’t take what you’ve said out of context.
I wanted to have a different sort of approach with other people. And while that approach has been difficult in some ways, I think it has also succeeded in other ways, and revealed sides of very interesting and important people that are not normally revealed because they are not dealing with a standard interviewer, they are dealing with someone who is under house arrest, who has gone through political problems that they can sympathize with.
RT: And how easy did you find it moving from one side of the desk to the other, becoming the interviewer?
JA: It was a lot harder that I thought it was in the beginning, very hard. As time went by, like everything, you start getting better at it.
The constraints of the medium, the constraints of time, the constraints of cameras, the constraints of people crowded in the intimate space the interview occurs in – this really does funnel the types of conversations that can occur into a particular direction.
So you see, for example, when we do a satellite feed and we’ve only got 45 minutes, actually the interaction that’s going through a translation is much more similar to a conventional interview. Where we have the luxury of three hours and having people here personally, it moves much more to a sort of conversation.
So I have more sympathy with these people who’re interviewing me as well understanding that the constraints of the medium are one of the pernicious factors, but they are not the only pernicious factor, there are also the constraints of the organization behind the medium.
RT: So how did you get to know RT, and why did you choose RT for the broadcast of your first program?
JA: We’ve seen RT’s reportage on the attacks on WikiLeaks for a number of years, and that reportage has generally been quite supportive. When we were looking what international broadcaster we wished to partner with as opposed to national broadcasters, we looked to see what was the penetration into the United States. And RT had higher penetration in the United States than Al Jazeera.
The BBC is the leading contestant but the BBC has been acting in a hostile manner towards us so we didn’t consider that the BBC would be an appropriate partner.
RT: RT aims to provide this kind of alternative view to those aired by the international mainstream channels. Does your choice of RT as the platform for your interview show your kind of response to that mainstream media?
JA: It is a response seeing that a lot of the things that we have been trying to report have not been carried accurately in the mainstream press. There are many, many fine exceptions but when we look at international networks there’s really only two that are worth speaking about, and that’s RT and Al Jazeera. The other international networks, as far as WikiLeaks issues are concerned, are too busy considering their own national agenda.
Now, if WikiLeaks had been producing voluminous material about Russia, perhaps that situation would be different. But in the case that we are in at the moment, our major confrontation is with the West, although we have published material for many countries.
RT is a natural partner to produce our material. Also the same about Al Jazeera but RT had greater penetration into the United States.
RT: The show is going to be launched on RT. But have you received offers from other channels? Has anyone else approached you with purchase offers?
JA: Yes, we receive offers from other channels, and we are sublicensing this show to other national broadcasters. RT is our international broadcaster, in the sense that CNN, or Al Jazeera, or the BBC is an international broadcaster.
RT: You worked closely with what we call the mainstream media in the past. What did that teach you about them?
JA: Any organization, once it grows to a sufficient size and has sufficient influence, starts having to make political compromises. And media organizations, by their very nature, are engaged in the political sphere. So the editors and publishers of media organizations have to sit down at the table with power groups, and they start becoming captured by these power groups.
So, we have found that working with them, when we try to get out our material through organizations, say, such as the Guardian, or the New York Times, or the BBC, that these organizations self-censor in a tremendously frequent manner and in a way which is against their stated values. It is not just against our values.
It is against their stated values. And in some cases even against the contracts that we have made with those organizations.
RT: You mentioned several specific publications and channels there. What response do you expect from the international mass media, some of whom you have already fallen out with. Do you expect a level of criticism, and if so, why?
JA: Of course. I mean, those organizations, like the New York Times, that we have refused to work with based upon what they were doing back in 2010 – although we do work with individual journalists at the New York Times and individual journalists in other institutions that we’ve had problems with. I assume that they will attack, just like they do when any competing media organization releases a big story. They always write against the story.
RT: What form do you expect this criticism to take?
JA: Let’s imagine a sort of obvious one. There’s Julian Assange, enemy combatant, traitor, getting into bed with the Kremlin and interviewing terrible radicals from around the world. But I think it’s a pretty trivial kind of attack on character. If they actually look at how the show is made: we make it, we have complete editorial control, we believe that all media organizations have an angle, all media organizations have an issue.
RT is a voice of Russia, so it looks at things from the Russian agenda. The BBC is a voice of the British government. Voice of America is a voice of the American government. It is the clashing of these voices together that reveals the truth about the world as a whole.
Our issue at the moment is that we are in a legal confrontation with the Department of Justice in the United States as a result of our recent publication, which concerned the United States. So it’s very natural. In order for us to speak about the way we see the world and interesting figures in the world, we need to partner with organizations that are actually capable of speaking.
Unfortunately, the majority of big networks in the United States are now not capable of effectively criticizing the abuse of US military power.
RT: Were you restrained by editorial policies while you were making the program for RT?
JA: No, not at all. We make the program. It is made by an independent British production company. The international broadcaster we’ve chosen is RT. So, at no stage has any editorial control been exercised. At no stage was it capable of being exercised by RT.
RT: And have you found that to be true?
JA: Yes, absolutely. There has been no interference in our show at all.
RT: When you were choosing the guests, what were your criteria?
JA: The single biggest criterion is that they would come on the show. And that’s quite interesting, because there were a number of guests that we couldn’t get. There is this kind of hidden censorship. We are still trying but – Ai Weiwei.
He is currently imprisoned under house arrest in China. His view is that his political situation makes it extremely difficult for him to speak to the media at all. Khodorkovsky, in prison in Russia, was a billionaire oligarch who has been imprisoned.
We would like to speak to him, but we can’t, he is in prison. Then, if we look at some of the big US insiders in some giant US corporations that we have indirect personal contact with, some of them say, “No, that’s too dangerous, as far as the US government is concerned. Yes, I would love to help you; yes, I would like to do the show but politically it’s just too dangerous.”
So, then we go to the other groups that we have chosen. And we did actually get most of those. Those are people who normally don’t get a voice.
RT: Could any of the guests that you have got appear on a mainstream TV network?
JA: Some could, some couldn’t. Some have, quite a few haven’t. What is fair to say is that the majority of what they have said to me they could not say on a mainstream TV network.
That is not just because of self-censorship of the networks. It is because of my style of interaction as someone who has been interviewed by the media many, many times. I understand the faults in that format. So I wanted something that looked at the depth in the situations that they had. That’s why I’m pulling out their story about their situation from their own perspective, and not just something that would fit a media soundbite. In dealing with me, they understand that they are not just dealing with a host.
They are not just dealing with a reporter. They are dealing with someone who has been through a very trying, dangerous and difficult political situation. So they can speak, to a degree, as equals because they understand that I understand.
For example, most of the guests that I’ve interviewed have been in prison at some stage. I’ve been in prison. So, immediately there is a sort of rapport present that is not present in a regular interview.
RT: Would you invite anyone from Russia’s political opposition to be on your program? And if so, who do you think it might be?
JA: Yes, we have invited a number of people from Russia’s political opposition. The Russian election cycle interfered with that because of their schedule and availability. But we’ll see if they will turn out. We had invited nearly all the prominent figures. And we’ve invited people from the Russian government as well – to try and get some balance.
RT: Are you going to use any new WikiLeaks data for this project?
JA: We have actually used it for some of the questions with some people. But in general we are not using this show to present new WikiLeaks data. But to occasional guests the information that we have is quite interesting.
RT: Are any of your guests directly linked to WikiLeaks information?
JA: Yes. Nearly all the guests are in our information one way or another.
RT: To what extent did the restricting of your freedom of movement interfere in the making of the programs?
JA: The restriction of my freedom of movement is what caused the programs. Now I have been over 460 days detained without charge. And I was used to going around the world from place to place, where the greatest political dynamics were, where we could be of most assistance. So, it’s quite isolating, to be frank, to be stuck in the English countryside under those conditions.
So, this all began as a way to bring in people to me so we could understand what was actually happening in the world, because we need to understand, as a part of running WikiLeaks, what is actually happening.
RT: Julian Assange, thank you very much.
JA: Thank you.