Julian Assange: Media reaction to balcony speech
- 20 August 2012
- From the section UK
Julian Assange urged the US to end its "witch-hunt" against Wikileaks in his first public statement since entering Ecuador's London embassy. Speaking from a balcony on Sunday he thanked Ecuador's president for granting him asylum.
But what did commentators and pundits from across the UK and the world think of his performance?
Luke Harding, the Guardian: "At around 2.30pm Assange emerged on to the balcony, a pallid figure dressed in a business-blue shirt and maroon tie. There was an enormous roar. Assange managed a thumbs-up, then tapped the microphone and inquired: "Can you hear me?" This, perhaps, was the moment for someone to shout: "'E's not the Messiah! 'E's a very naughty boy!"
"Still, one senses Scotland Yard may get the last laugh. Ecuador is a long way away. 'He's not going anywhere,' one police officer said of Assange, as the crowds melted away in the rain."
Andy McSmith, the Independent: "A competent image consultant could have warned him not to emerge into the public eye looking as he did. Far from giving him a Churchillian look, his blue shirt, crimson tie and cropped hair created - as one wag pointed out on Twitter - a curious resemblance to John Inman, from the 1970s' sitcom Are you Being Served?
"But what was much more serious - the elephant in the room, so to speak - was Assange's wilful failure to say anything about the actual reason that the Swedish police want to question him."
The Sun's editorial: "Odious Julian Assange loved every second of his pompous balcony rant. His speech was long on egotistical claptrap, but oddly failed to mention what this extradition case is actually about — the rape of one woman and sexual molestation of another.
"If Mr Assange really does believe in the importance of transparent justice in a democratic state, he should subject HIMSELF to it now and get on the first plane to Sweden."
Melanie Phillips, the Daily Mail: "Posing as a champion of justice and human rights, Assange made a theatrical statement from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London's exclusive Knightsbridge, for all the world like an Eva Peron of the ether. Instead of the adoring multitude, however, all he addressed was a few bedraggled if noisy supporters, scores of police officers trying both to stop a riot and protect him from being shot, and phalanxes of the world's media delighted by a dramatic story in the August silly-season.
"Not since the Argentines invaded the Falklands has Britain had its tail so humiliatingly tweaked by a Latin American dictatorship. Suddenly, Ecuador is on the lips of people who previously would have struggled to find it on a map. All this merry mayhem is, of course, being orchestrated by Assange, who continues to play the British governing class for suckers."
Gary Slapper, the Times: "He got off to a bad start. It was an explicit precondition of his being granted asylum by Ecuador that he did not use his status within the embassy to make political speeches. So technically his outrageous address denied him the right to be on the balcony from which he spoke.
"The appropriate palladium of justice is a law court. The case of Mr Assange cannot be adequately judged on the pages of Facebook, by a million tweets and counter-tweets or by political balcony declarations and governmental counter-declarations."
World press reaction
Sydney Morning Herald, editorial: "The case of Julian Assange gets ever more curious - with the Andean nation of Ecuador now thoroughly drawn into the web of conspiracy fears and paranoia surrounding the WikiLeaks founder.
"We now have a democratic government in the American hemisphere granting asylum to someone on the basis of well-grounded fear of political persecution in the United States. The case is a dark hole of legal and human rights suspicions that needs the light of transparent judicial process."
The Australian editorial: "Should you try to peer through the suspended animation currently encircling Julian Assange's medium-term future you might be tempted to punt that he won't be extradited to the US to face espionage charges.
"Assange is an Australian and Australia is a staunch US ally. If Assange's legal future became a major talking point in this country, you could probably expect a bit of nationalism to intrude. It's likely, though not certain, that Assange would be seen as wearing the white jersey and the US perceived as wearing a black one. In other words, it probably wouldn't transpire as a US public relations triumph."
Anita Isaacs, New York Times: Ecuador's decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks wanted in Sweden for questioning over claims of rape and sexual molestation, has put the country in a political standoff with Britain, where he is holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy.
"But the confusion in London has, in fact, little if anything to do with Ecuadorean-British relations and everything to do with regional and local politics in the Western Hemisphere."
Martin Jonsson, Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden: "Julian Assange's speech on the balcony to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London was the culmination of a week of diplomatic chaos. But also: further evidence of how totally Assange seems to have lost its grip on reality."
Anshel Pfeffer, Israel's Haaretz: "Many were reminded of the famous scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian, and began shouting 'Release Julian, release Julian'. That was followed by cries of 'I am Julian, I am Julian'. Thus the fugitive's emergence took a farcical atmosphere."