March 8, 2014

National security reporters from the U.S. are a “new type of refugee,” according to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who addressed South by Southwest attendees via video conference Saturday.

“Glenn Greenwald, originally from New York, where is he now?” he asked. (Answer: Brazil.) “Laura Poitras … where is she now?” (Answer: Germany.) Assange himself has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.

His point: Feeling increasingly threatened by their own governments since last year’s NSA leaks keeps some journalists from reporting on government surveillance issues — especially those on the receiving end of classified documents — in the first place, and it forces some of those who do into “effective exile.”

Assange also weighed in on First Look Media and its first property, The Intercept, saying he took eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s investment in national security reporting as a sign that the “new elite” who aren’t able to influence the intelligence system directly feel threatened by the NSA.

“Despite all that money, I believe that Pierre Omidyar has generally seen that there isn’t even liberty for people who have $8 billion anymore,” he said.

And on Greenwald: “I find it hard to imagine any reporter in the United States who has done better, or been braver.” Greenwald, of course, has supported Assange, writing about what he calls a “bizarre, unhealthy, blinding media contempt for Julian Assange.”

The SXSW conversation was riddled with Skype technical difficulties, which doesn’t bode well for Monday’s marquee event with Edward Snowden. The host, Benjamin Palmer of the Barbarian Group, said Google Hangouts was the backup plan. Midway through the session, Assange could no longer receive audio, and asked the crowd to wave to signal they could hear him. Palmer resorted to texting questions.

Poynter at SXSW: Welcome back to the WED dance | The ins and outs of Twibel | Algorithms, Journalism and Democracy | Schedule of sessions focused on the news media

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Sam Kirkland is Poynter's digital media fellow, focusing on mobile and social media trends. Previously, he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times as a digital editor,…
Sam Kirkland

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