The New Statesman and Frontline Club are holding a debate at Kensington Town Hall on Saturday on the subject of whistleblowing. I was invited to be on the panel, and then my invitation was abruptly withdrawn. The main interest will of course be Julian Assange, but I should have liked to have contributed from my own, very difficult experience.
What is really annoying is that, having disinvited me, they are now discussing whistleblowing without a single whistleblower on the panel. Julian always states (quite rightly) that he is not a whistleblower, but rather publishes things leaked by whistleblowers. The motion is:
“This house believes whistleblowers make the world a safer place”
For the motion:
Julian Assange, Wikileaks
Clayton Swisher, al-Jazeera
Mehdi Hasan, New Statesman
Against the motion:
David Richmond, ex Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Bob Ayers, ex US Department of Defence
Douglas Murray, Henry Jackson Society
Not only is there no whistleblower allowed on the panel, it enables Ayers and Richmond to portray unchallenged their views on what is practically necessary as seen from inside government. I have nothing against Swisher or Hasan, but they are general talking heads, as is Douglas Murray.
It is a complete mystery to me why I should be invited, then uninvited. This is the exchange of emails:
I am writing from the Frontline Club in regards to a debate we are organising with the New Statesman on Saturday 9 April at 5pm in Kensington Town Hall, London for which we would like to invite you to speak. It will be a two-sided adversarial debate, the motion being “The house believes whistleblowers make the world a safer place”. Joining you on stage will be Julian Assange, Mehdi Hasan (the New Statesman’s senior political editor), Douglas Murray and others to be confirmed. You will find further details of the content of the debate below. Please do let me know if you think you will be available. We only announced the event late last week and it has already sold out. It is sure to be a brilliant debate and we would love for you to join us.
To which I replied:
I should be delighted.
Which was confirmed with:
Excellent news. We are very pleased to have you on board. You will be a valuable addition to the panel.
There are more details of the event here: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/03/debate-assange-wikileaks
It will take place between 5pm-6.30pm on 9th April and it is likely there will also be some kind of after party.
I will be back in touch soon with more details. Until then, if you have any questions at all, please feel free to get in touch.
Best regards and many thanks,
Which was followed up with this rather strange one:
Would you be able to hold off announcing you appearance at the debate for a few days? We are going to formally announce. Sorry, I should have made this clear in my initial email.
To which I innocently replied:
oops, too late!! But nobody reads my blog any way. I’ll edit it out and hope nobody noticed. Can you not find a larger venue?
At which stage it started to become clear that I was being eased off the panel with:
Thanks for editing your blog. The structure and panel for the debate is still subject to confirmation you see, so we cannot 100% confirm at this stage because the details may change. We have sent out numerous invites and at this point are waiting on several replies before the final panel will be selected by the editorial team. We would like to have you involved, but until the format is decided I cannot say in what capacity as the decision is not up to me.
I’ll get back to you as soon as I possibly can on this.
As for the venue, we are not in a position to get a larger one. We had no idea the demand would be so great and have already signed with Kensington.
I’ll be in touch again asap.
Not being the only whistleblower in the world, and seeing that the New Statesman were desperate to withdraw their invitation, I therefore offered to stand down in favour of another whistleblower:
I quite understand. if you do not include me in the panel, I do hope you will nonetheless find room for at least one actual whistleblower. Julian is the first to say he is in the position of an editor who publishes the revelations of whistleblowers. Dan Ellsberg might very possibly come – he is passionate about the subject matter and really the godfather of us all.
I should not wish to participate in any capacity other than one of the main speakers in the debate. You will perhaps understand that in my position it would be difficult for me to accept that my views on whistleblowing, if on nothing else, should command less respect than those of Douglas Murray or Mehdi Hasan. It would, I think, look pretty strange to the audience too.
To which they replied:
Good to hear from you. We have already been on to the wonderful Daniel Ellsberg but it is his 80th birthday that weekend and he is celebrating in the states. Your email will certainly be noted and I completely understand where you are coming from.
I’ll try and get back to you as soon as I possibly can.
But they never did “Get back to me”. Then yesterday they published the final panel for the debate, not only excluding me but excluding any actual whistleblowers.
I phoned Ryan Gallagher from Turkey and said I thought it was impolite of him not to have contacted me before they published the panel. I also suggested that it was very strange to have this debate without any whistleblowers. He said that they were anxious that whistleblowers should not be excluded, and that one or two whistleblowers might be invited to make a statement.
This really is pathetic by the Frontline Club, an organisation for which I had a fair amount of respect.