It is often said that journalism is “the world's second oldest profession” – but that somehow sounds flattering to politicians.
And the ranking looks suspiciously unlikely to hold up when this latest case is taken into account: UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has at once expressed his concern and appreciation, and disregard for journalists, and for the torturous, for more reasons than one, case of Julian Assange.
Australian journalist and author Caitlin Johnstone writes on Medium about Hunt heaping high praise on free media and its role in keeping bad governments in check – while also “defending the torture” of Assange, the WikiLeaks founder.
It looks like the British politician has achieved a rather unremarkable feat for his profession: to talk out of both sides of his mouth. That is not to say that blatant – and potentially dangerous – hypocrisy of this kind should not be called out, and Johnstone does so in great detail.
The notion of “torture” was thrown into the mix several days ago in relation to Assange and his treatment by the UK – where he had spent years hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy, before surrendering earlier this year.
Nils Melzer – UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – recently visited him in prison, saying afterwards that Assange had been a victim of psychological torture, that there are serious concerns regarding his well-being going forward, and that the Australian government had failed to protect one of its citizens.
Shortly afterward – Hunt – who has a small chance of becoming the UK's next prime minister – rejected these allegations, claiming that Assange could have left the embassy at any time, to give himself up to UK's justice system, and avoid the consequences of spending years holed up in one place.
This is wrong. Assange chose to hide in the embassy and was always free to leave and face justice. The UN Special Rapporteur should allow British courts to make their judgements without his interference or inflammatory accusations. https://t.co/s0UtMN5pU0
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) May 31, 2019
But Melzer shot back: “Assange was about as ‘free to leave' as a someone sitting on a rubber boat in a shark pool.”
The UN official also reminded Hunt of his formal letter that states the UK courts are in this case yet to show “the impartiality and objectivity required by the rule of law.”
After this exchange had taken place, the next stop for Hunt was the World News Media Congress in Glasgow. There, he lauded courageous journalists who hold governments to account. Not Julian Assange – it goes without saying. Other journalists.
A free media is not a “Western” value but a pillar of a thriving society, benefiting people across the world. To embrace the opportunities of a free society we must defend the press. My speech in Glasgow to #WorldNewsMediaCongress @NewspaperWorld https://t.co/18GOoKfVKP pic.twitter.com/3Bs7kj710S
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) June 1, 2019