IAMCR 2011 - Special session on WikiLeaks

wikileaks_logoPlans are afoot to  hold a Special Session at IAMCR  annual conference in Istanbul in July on WikiLeaks titled Lessons from/for WikiLeaks: Perspectives from Media and Communications.

The panel proposal text was developed by leaders of the Community Communication Section and Global Media Policy Working Group, along with cooperation from Ibrahim Saleh of the Journalism Section and the IAMCR Secretariat.

This Special Session aims to feature analysis and reflections from practitioners and academics on the matter in order to address some of the pressing issues emerging from the 'model' WikiLeaks has generated. The session should complement plans by other sections for WikiLeaks-related panels (such as a planned roundtable by the CPT and Law sections), as well as sessions that may emerge from paper submissions, ideally leading to a stream of WL-sessions.  The rationale for the session is pasted below.

Special Session

Lessons from/for WikiLeaks | Perspectives from Media and Communications

The release of U.S. embassy diplomatic cables in what has become referred to as 'Cablegate', and of detailed reports and footage from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, by WikiLeaks has been a major and ongoing development, with unforeseen consequences for the media realm as well as for international politics. The WikiLeaks case illustrates the extent to which nation states are prepared to apply a repertoire of both formal and informal pressure and mechanisms in an attempt to control information. It also opens a new and challenging space to reflect on transformations that involve political communication and policy making, mobilization repertoires and mediating roles between power and citizens.

The IAMCR 2011 conference presents a timely platform to consider the broader implications of WikiLeaks across areas of media research and to identify and initiate pathways for future investigation. This Special Session endeavors to both contextualize the current situation of WikiLeaks, and understand its implications across the broad themes of politics & policy, activism and journalism. It will be structured around the following sets of questions:

Politics & Policy

Why has WikiLeaks stirred up so much controversy and reaction? Is the release of classified information sharing challenging power relations and social control based on practices of secrecy (as WikiLeaks activists would argue)? Is the WikiLeaks model suggesting new articulations of power in domestic and international politics? Is it suggesting new roles and responsibilities in information sharing and a different understanding of 'soft' or 'radical power'? Are national and international policy environments structured to deal with the information 'risk' presented by WikiLeaks and how might such environments change in its wake? What are the policy implications of the extrajudicial tactics deployed to censor WikiLeaks? What does it tell us about the tension between the 'free flow information' doctrine long promoted by US government and industry, and longstanding claims for publicity and communicative rights of citizens? What is the role of private companies in censorship?


What type of media/information activism is WikiLeaks? In which regards is it decentralized, horizontal or top-down, leader-centered? In the wake of attacks on the organization, what shape is activism supporting WikiLeaks taking? What is the relationship between WikiLeaks and established news organizations? Is the WikiLeaks model suggesting new repertoires of action or is it an extension of the potential of web-based resources to existing mobilization modes? What does research on alternative, activist and community media tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of WikiLeaks as an organization? What does all this suggest about the future of information activism?


Is WikiLeaks a journalistic organization? The case of WikiLeaks continues to unfold in and through international media and is thus of direct relevance to the field and practice of journalism. For some, it has served as a 'wakeup call' to the importance of journalism while for others it highlights the deficiency of ‘traditional’ journalism. Does WikiLeaks embody a 'new' journalistic organization for the information age? Is there a clash between the traditional principles of journalism and the 'leaks' principle for media change ingrained in WikiLeaks? Or,  in contrast, might WikiLeaks be a saviour of traditional media by providing sources for investigative reporting and by demonstrating the persistent relevance of established media? In light of the extrajudicial action taken against WikiLeaks, what are the implications for the established principle of 'freedom of the press'? What can this case suggest about information ‘risk’ in hostile or coercive societies? What does the WikiLeaks case tell us about investigative journalism and the nexus between the people's right to know and professional responsibility?

The Special Session will draw on work done within and outside the IAMCR. Organizers will seek to secure high-level speakers from both activism and academia (renowned experts in the field), including from IAMCR sections. To this end, they will coordinate with section heads.

This proposal for a Special Session is currently supported by IAMCR’s Community Communication Section and Global Media Policy Working Group. Support by further sections is encouraged.