A media organisation called Associated Whistle-blowing Press has just launched a site called Ljost.is (ljóst is Icelandic for “clear” or “illuminated”). Its objectives are similar to those of WikiLeaks, but Ljóst aims to go a step further, playing a greater role in the analysis of documents and denouncing wrongdoing.The founders are a couple of journalists from South America—Pedro Noel and Santiago Carrion—who previously wrote for WikiLeakscentral.org before defecting to start their own media organisation in Iceland with the help of internet pioneer and former International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) board member Guðmundur Ragnar Guðmundsson. Pedro tells me more about it over a cup of coffee at a downtown café not far from the Grapevine offices.
A RIFT WITH WIKILEAKS CENTRAL
Tell me more about yourselves. How did you get into this?
When we came up with the idea in December 2011, we had been working as journalists in Spain, writing for WikiLeaks Central, analysing documents, covering the Arab Spring and movements in Spain as well. WikiLeaks Central was created at the end of 2010 when rumours surfaced that Sweden was preparing an attack on Julian [Assange]. The idea was that WikiLeaks would create its own news portal to balance reports, giving more first-hand accounts. But it soon grew into something bigger than expected—we started analysing cables, denouncing wrongdoing, covering uprisings, talking about human rights—and for a year and half it worked very nicely like this. At some point though, the editorial policy changed. A decision was made to only cover news about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. But we didn’t want to be there simply as fans saying that WikiLeaks was cool and that Julian Assange was cool and that he was not a rapist.
Why didn’t they want to have you writing stories about the documents that they were releasing?
That was precisely our question, which is why we decided to create this new project. We think that acquiring material and analysing and publishing it should go together. We don’t know why WikiLeaks made the decision to give documents to mainstream media and rely on them to publish stories.
Right, certain media were handpicked…
Yeah in the beginning with the cables there were just four media outlets—The Guardian, The Times, Le Monde, El País in Spain. It was a journalistic decision that we don’t agree with.
It’s wrong because mainstream media have political and economic agendas. We are doing this as volunteers and our beliefs go strictly against these agendas.
LJÓST VS. WIKILEAKS
How will Ljóst be different than WikiLeaks then?
I think there are three things. First, we are going to build teams to analyse the documents, which means recruiting journalists, some that were already analysing WikiLeaks cables. Second, we are also going to partner with media organisations, but not exclusively, as WikiLeaks did. Third, we are going to focus more on local communities. So its objective is largely the same, but we want to go one step further to denounce wrongdoing, crimes and corruption. If you think about the latest releases from WikiLeaks, they weren’t really denouncing wrongdoing. There were no real cases of corruption in the State Department cables; the files simply explained the structure and logistics of how something works. It was the same with the Stratfor release; they revealed how something works.
You’re not really interested in those documents?
We are open to receiving those kinds of documents as well, but we want to incentivise people to denounce wrongdoing. Like we say here [reads from mission statement], we only accept restricted or censored material of political, scientific, ethical, diplomatic or historical significance. Rumour, opinion, stories and other kinds of firsthand accounts or material that is publicly available elsewhere will not be accepted. So if it’s relevant to public interest, we will receive it. But we want to incentivise people to denounce corruption, crime, and wrongdoing.
THE ICELAND CONNECTION
I find it curious that you came to Iceland. You mentioned as we were walking over here that you feel it’s safe here…
Simply because of IMMI.
But IMMI doesn’t REALLY exist.
Even though IMMI hasn’t implemented all of the legal changes that it would like to implement—changing 16 laws—it is making progress, succeeding, for instance, in getting source protection. That has been totally implemented. But if you think about the whole world, Iceland is the safest place.
How do you see it working in Iceland’s tightly knit society?
First, I think there is a tendency here to adopt innovative things, as Iceland became world-renowned for its revolution. I think Icelanders are proud of this, to have done things that other countries only wanted to do. Second, as Iceland is small, power is concentrated in the hands of a few people who often times wear multiple hats. This may be a bad thing, because it can be easy to find out who leaked information, but it can also be a good thing, as it means that there are people out there who have access to relevant information.
Give me an example of what somebody might submit here in Reykjavík.
Suppose that the owners of this café aren’t paying taxes or they are putting them in somebody else’s name. Somebody who works here, who has access to this information, could scan those documents and send them to this platform, proving that the café is washing money or evading taxes. And this can be applied to private and government institutions.
What kinds of documents do you think you’ll see most? What do you think is most corrupt today?
I would really like information about the aluminium companies. I think this may be most important. But I would also like to see diplomatic documents and inside communication from the government proving malpractice, corruption or wrongdoing. I would personally find that most interesting. But it’s not right to want big leaks. Every leak is important if it denounces wrongdoing.
Their Mission Statement
What is it?
Ljost.is will be a citizen whistle-blowing platform destined to open for the Icelandic public. Through this platform, any person will be able to submit documents reporting wrongdoing, crimes and abuses (both in private and governmental field) in an anonymous way.
Why are they doing it?
The main goal of the Associated Whistle-blowing Press is to generate social awareness about problems that are normally hidden from the public, hoping that concrete action to solve them will follow. We believe in the traditional idea, lately forgotten, that media must be an active player in correctly informing the population about relevant facts. They believe a transparent and free flow of information is something essential for self governance. They believe that citizens have the right to know what their political and economical leaders are doing that directly or indirectly affect them. For journalists, researchers and media activists, this is a very powerful way to lead people to take action against repression, oppression, brutality, censorship, social inequality and corporate greed in every society of this planet.
What kind of documents will they accept?
The AWP only accepts restricted or censored material of political, scientific, ethical, diplomatic or historical significance. Rumour, opinion, stories and other kinds of firsthand accounts or material that is publicly available elsewhere will not be accepted. Materials that violate individual privacy will not be accepted unless they speak up on violations and abuses that affect the public sphere.
Learn more about Ljóst.is at their website.