Fresh from condemning the latest WikiLeaks revelations, the State Department announced on Tuesday that they planned to host the 2011 World Press Freedom Day, May 1-3, organized by UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization.
Whether or not it qualifies for inclusion in a celebration of press freedoms, WikiLeaks was the hot pink, four-ton gorilla in the room. Its founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in London on sexual misconduct charges stemming from alleged incidents in Sweden on the same day of the State Department announcement. His leak site had just published diplomatic cables implying that the Department of State was instructing local representatives to spy on United Nations officials.
The highlight of the State Department's hosting duties will be the awarding of the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize at the National Press Club on May 3. The prize honors those who have “notably contributed to the defense and/or promotion of press freedom, especially where risks have been undertaken.” Past winners have included the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, Israeli Gaza correspondent Amira Hass, and Zimbabwean newspaper editor Geoffrey Nyarota. Other events will take place at Washington's Newseum.
In another instance some would consider ironic, the State Department's primary online home for World Press Freedom Day is a Facebook page. Discussion boards there are open, and multiple users are taking clear sides on whether WikiLeaks should be considered legitimate press and calling the State Department's hosting announcement hypocritical after officials called for the detainment of Assange.
According to State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley, “The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.”
Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin notes that Crowley has taken to Twitter to criticize Assange. On Tuesday, Crowley tweeted that “Julian #Assange comes clean as opportunist, threatens to put others at risk to save his own hide” in response to Assange's threat to release extremely damaging cables.