Quest to Deliver Truth to the Unwilling
Wikileaks Rides East!
by ISRAEL SHAMIR
Mediastan, A Wikileaks Road Movie.
The film was screened for the first time in London Raindance Film
Festival October 1, 2013, and in a Moscow Festival a week later.)
diverse gang of five journalists in their early thirties ride a car
through deserts and high mountains of Central Asia. Amidst breathtaking
scenery, they cross impassable tunnels, negotiate steep curves and
flocks of sheep on country roads, visit the capitals of new republics
that came into being since the fall of the USSR, meet interesting people
and discuss freedom of speech and its limits. A road movie par
excellence, it’s Easy Rider by Wim Wenders, but in a better setting.
learn that theirs is not a joyride. These young people had been sent on
a quest to far-away lands by the maverick genius of Julian Assange,
captive of Ellingham Hall in East Anglia. (The events unfold two years
ago, before Julian’s escape to the Ecuador Embassy) He has his adventure
by proxy, unable to leave the walls of the manor. Assange makes a few
appearances in the film, and one of the scenes, a fast night walk in the
woods, is an artistic gem, as the director Johannes Wahlstrom (the Swede
in the gang) conveys dramatic urgency and Julian’s acute personal
involvement by cinematic means. Assange speaks to editors via Skype, and
argues with his co-workers about the purpose of the whole exercise. Thus
we learn that the young party’s goal is to deliver the State Department
cables deftly lifted by Sergeant Manning to remote lands, so the
peoples of these countries will know the truth, namely how they are
perceived by the imperial power. This truth is to liberate them, but
they need a mediator: the media.
has to select, translate, explain and publish the cables so they will
reach the target audience. Assange’s missionaries meet with editors of
newspapers, news agencies and radio stations, and offer them their
tempting and dangerous load, for free. The majority refuse the offer.
They are too tightly connected with the American power structure, with
the all-embracing tentacles of the Empire. Some take it, but we do not
learn whether they actually use it. (I personally had better luck
disseminating these cables in Russia, with its vibrant media and
anti=American sentiment). Our travellers easily accept that Central
Asian media is far from free, but in a subtly presented turn of events
they will later discover that the mighty Western mainstream media is
they travel is comprised of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan,
Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and they deal with local media as they go:
hence the title, Mediastan. Our travellers learn that the US
habitually pays these local media to publish articles favourable to the
US; some of those articles are published first in Russia, and afterwards
reprinted in local publications, so that they appear to carry more
authority. Some chief editors actually reside in the US and control
their publications remotely. In timid Turkmenistan they visit a central
newspaper office; every issue of the newspaper carries a photo of their
president in full colour on the front page, and the editor tells his
visitors that he is not looking for trouble. Leaving his office, they
drive through a rebuilt-from-scratch Ashgabat, an architectural wonder
of marble houses and clean broad avenues. Apparently not all the natural
gas revenue has been siphoned abroad, and this seems a positive
development. However, our visitors end up being expelled from the
republic, just in case.
Kazakhstan, they encounter the oil workers of Zhanaozen, who have
carried a long
hunger strike: no media reported on
this development, until a month later, after they had been dispersed by
bullets. A dozen strikers were killed, many wounded and even more
imprisoned. This film footage is remarkable for preserving the sorrows
and complaints of the oil workers before the violent repression. Even
afterwards, the drama of the oil workers received very little exposure,
for they were working for Western oil companies, and the President, Mr
Nazarbayev, is considered West-friendly. For the mainstream media, gay
pride parades have greater news value than a workers’ hunger strike.
travellers also meet up with a character from another Wikileaks exploit,
a released Guantanamo prisoner. Wikileaks had published his secret CIA
file (among others). This big, grim, handsome and bearded man spent five
years in that hellish camp; he tells our gang of his life in limbo, and
they reveal to him why he was imprisoned – like Edmond Dantes of The
Count of Monte Cristo, Gitmo prisoners are never told of the
accusations against them. When he learns that he had been locked up for
so long simply because American interrogators wanted to learn from him
the mood among Tajik refugees in Afghanistan, he became furious:
“Couldn’t they just ask me, and let me go?” he exclaims.
Afghan episode stands apart from the rest, but that is the attraction of
a road movie: it allows the film-maker to piece together quite disparate
items. In semi-occupied Northern Afghanistan our gang visits a Swedish
camp, where the Swedish press officer admits that they have no clue why
they are there in the first place. The Afghans want them to leave,
because the Swedes do not give bribes. We learn that under American
pressure, the Swedes do something similar to bribing, in order to stay.
Why are they there at all? The US wants to impress the natives with
Swedish good will, at no expense for itself.
somewhat comic episode, Johannes tries to push his leaked cables to the
head of local Radio Liberty, the US-owned and financed propaganda
network. He is solemnly informed that Radio Liberty enjoys full freedom
of expression, can discuss any subject, and knows no censorship.
Johannes might as well have offered the cables to the US embassy!
realm of Mediastan is not enclosed by the high mountains; it stretches
all the way to Hudson River and the Thames, for there Wahlstrom meets
two people thriving at the top of the media food chain: in London, chief
editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger and in New York, the
then executive editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller. The two
are smooth, glib and polished, suave and botoxed, they have their
answers at the ready, but they are as subservient to power as a lowly
editor of Stan-News.
Guardian played a tricky part in the Wikileaks story, a part they
are likely to repeat now with Snowden. In the case of
Snowden, they published his
materials, previously vetting them with the NBA,
induced him to reveal his identity,
beefed up their ‘’progressive’’ reputation, and at the end, commissioned
their own hatchet-man, Luke Harding, to write a book, presumably
trashing him. They gained a feather in their cap with the intelligence
services, with the trusting readers, and are likely to end up destroying
the same with Julian: they used his stuff, vetted it, censored it to fit
their masters’ agenda, and afterwards published all the dirt on him they
could find, bringing him as much disrepute as they could. The NY
Times was even worse, as they collaborated with the CIA and Pentagon
all the way, and fully supported the Assange witch-hunt.
CP readers were able to follow this unique saga in real time, from
inception, probably better than
anybody in mainstream or blogs. They could learn how
cables were published, and how the
maligned Assange (they received confidential Swedish police
records and distorted its contents). When, some months later, the
records were made public, a Swedish site wrote: “The sleaze printed
…above all [by] the toxic Nick Davies of The Guardian, can stand no
more… Nick Davies’ account of the protocols was maliciously skewed”. The
Guardian tendentiously headlined the cables obtained by Manning
and delivered by Assange. Ordinary people rarely read beyond headlines.
So the Guardian habitually ascribed to Wikileaks certain remarks
of the US officials, as you can see
here, most often in order to
undermine Russia and delegitimise its president. Only now can we
understand the reason for these relentless attacks on Putin – only he
was strong-willed enough to bridle the impending US attack on Syria, and
thus signal the end of American hegemony.
Central Asian cables were more interesting, than somewhat, for the US
ambassadors in the region were incautious, even brutally frank, in their
communications with the State Department. “The Guardian has deliberately
excised portions of published cables to hide evidence of corruption [by
Western companies in Central Asia]”, as CP readers were told in
this piece, which is difficult to
locate via Google (surprise, surprise!). Wahlstrom asks Alan Rusbridger
why he excised the names of the grafters and receives a true-to-(Mediastan)form
response: these are very rich people and they could take us to court.
appears just in time to coincide with first screening of The Fifth
Estate, the Hollywood film on the same subject. It’s not a
coincidence: Assange was very unhappy with the Hollywood project and he
said so openly to its producer, its director and to the actor who played
his part. He wisely decided to keep his hands off Mediastan: he
refused to get involved so the film maker would be independent. This is
definitely not a groupie movie about their guru: the central figure is
not Julian, but media.
films are vastly different. The Fifth Estate is based on a story
by Assange’s co-worker turned enemy and wannabe rival, Daniel
Domscheit-Berg, and was produced on an above-the-average budget of $40
million, while Mediastan was done by the young director Johannes
Wahlstrom, a friend of Assange, on a shoestring budget out of his own
slim pocket; the DP (Director of Photography) and other dedicated, but
lacking in resources, crew members worked for free. Despite all odds,
they succeeded in producing a powerful and haunting thriller for the
thinking man – an epic quest to deliver vital truth to the unwilling.
occupies a very special niche of a documentary that uses all the tools
of a feature film: it’s dynamic, tightly wound, rich with nuances,a
pleasure for the eyes and food for thought, beautifully photographed by
Russian virtuoso of the camera, Feodor (Theo to his friends) Lyass, the
DP for the recent top success of Russian cinema,
Dukhless. Director Johannes
Wahlstrom – (I do not dare to say how wonderful he is, because,
after all, he is my son) – was brought up in Israel, and moved to
Sweden with his Swedish mother when he was 12. This is his first full
feature film; he previously worked in Swedish TV and edited a magazine.
He is one of these brave young men who want to fix the world instead of
giving it a fix.
suggest you see this film, for the sheer pleasure of watching these keen
young faces, wild landscapes and far-away lands, if not also to learn
more about how Wikileaks has changed the world.
[Language editing by Ken Freeland]
lives in Moscow.