The Media Celebrated Julian Assange and is Now Too Afraid to Defend Him

It has become easier over the last month for governments to kill or imprison journalists whom they want to silence. But the most sinister aspect of this assault on freedom of speech is that it is facing such limited resistance from the very media that is under attack.

US intelligence agencies concluded in a report declassified by President Joe Biden that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Biden began by treating him as a pariah, but is now reversing this policy in the run-up to his visit to Saudi Arabia next month which is aimed at persuading MBS to pump more crude to replace Russian exports and bring down the oil price.

In other words, the murderers of Khashoggi have got what they wanted and shown with grisly brutality that no Saudi dissident journalist is safe, a precedent that will be taken to heart in Turkey, where MBS has been visiting this week. All is now forgiven by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, newly allied to Saudi Arabia, while the trial in absentia of the 26 alleged murderers of Khashoggi had already been transferred from Ankara to Riyadh.

A humiliating climbdown

It is a humiliating climbdown by the Biden administration, which justifies it by saying that it is giving priority to combatting Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. But, whatever its cause, the new American line provides a licence to hunt down and eliminate exiled journalists opposing autocratic rule.

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But it is not just regimes engaged in a bit of nasty political opportunism who are giving the tyrants a free pass. Pundits openly declare that opposing Russia and China successfully requires conciliating states whose repression of millions-strong religious and ethnic groups, like the Shia in Saudi Arabia and the Kurds in Turkey, should now be dismissed as “casual cruelties” and “human rights abuses”. In future, these failings, so the pundits argue, should attract only the gentlest of taps on the wrist, so that MBS and Erdogan can be recruited to freedom’s cause.

These developments are shocking but they are scarcely surprising as Biden has always been a quick man