Radio? Politics? Media Watch? Where to next for Julian Assange?

On Thursday night, people planning to settle in for a double episode of Law and Order SVU on Ten were met not with the familiar sight of Ice-T solving crimes while pretending he didn’t write a song called ‘Cop Killer’ once, but instead by a boy with a blonde bowl haircut, hacking into the type of fluoro-fonted, black-screen databases that only exist in the Matrix.

Yes, Julian Assange is back in Australia, a free man after copping a plea deal for time spent in the company of Pamela Anderson – and he is everywhere at the moment. Everyone has caught Assange fever, it seems. Despite his wife’s reasonable assertion he needs time to “let our family be a family”, we’re all waiting to see what he’ll do next. Aside from a double thumbs-up.

Swept up in the wave, Ten dug up an old telemovie from 2012, produced during an earlier rush of Assange fever, starring Rachel Griffiths and one of the top two LaPaglia brothers. Curiously, this film focuses not on Assange’s recent trials, but on a teenage Julian, back when he was a computer hacker being chased by a bumbling Australian Federal Police force whose idea of sophisticated computing power back in 1989 was the Game Boy. It’s a good film, and a good reminder of Assange’s various saleable skills.

These days, in the eyes of the general public, computer hackers are ranked somewhere between murderers and parking inspectors, due mostly to a flood of recent attacks on institutions like Optus, Telstra, Medibank, et al. that basically means the entire Australian population has now had personal data stolen and sold – by hackers. Even if it’s a boat licence number, it still feels like an invasion. So, I get the public sentiment against hackers – and against murderers and parking inspectors for that matter.

But the type of ‘hacking’ Assange ascribed to – at least before he broke The Espionage Act – is so-called ‘white hat’ hacking, where you break into a system just to prove you can; to look around, and see what’s inside. ‘Look but don’t steal’ is the credo. Like bored kids breaking into a mall but not stealing anything, I guess. There is also an educational element, in seeing how sophisticated systems are built, and — no doubt — a thrill in gaining unauthorised access. Oftentimes these hackers will stumble across a major flaw and inform the organisation of the pending danger, like one 15-year-old Aussie kid who hacked the UN and discovered “around 100,000 highly sensitive records that could have been weaponised if it fell into the wrong hands.” Gulp.

Taking the ‘if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em’ approach, Fortune 500 companies now routinely pay these hackers big money to test and expose flaws in their security systems. There’s a US startup called Synack with around 1,000 hackers on its books, who can earn millions in bounties and payments for short-term hacking jobs.

A 21-year-old kid remotely accessed the systems of 25 Teslas in 2022; the following year he was the keynote speaker at Scotland’s annual tech industry meetup. Years earlier, a kid who published step-by-step instructions on how to hack your own PlayStation 3 to play pirated CDs was snapped up by Zuckerberg, and put to work at Facebook.

So, Assange could do a bit of remote hacking for some pocket money, as he sorts out his next move.

There’s also Wikileaks, remember?

This hacking side-hustle might also be a good funding model for Wikileaks: some weekend hacking work to fund the flagging organisation? That’s assuming Assange has any interest in picking back up.

The website lays dormant, quaintly cast in Internet 1.0 carbonine, looking like a turn-of-the-century Geocities site rather than the home base of an organisation that took on various arms of the US Government.

Last December, as he was preparing for his final fight for freedom, a journalist from The Nation visited Assange in Belmarsh prison and asked about the roadblocks for Wikileaks today.

It’s a curious article. The journalist Charles Glass paints a friendship between the pair, but uses no direct quotes, instead describing the thrust of their conversation, as if retelling it later at the pub. In fact, the only Assange quote used in the entire piece is “they call it prison pale”, a comment regarding his ghostly complexion. But despite the lack of actual quotes, the below exchange aptly shows the hassles, legal and fiscal, that Wikileaks faces in 2024:

With the invasions of Ukraine and Gaza, I say, now is an important time for whistleblowers to send documents to WikiLeaks. He regrets that WikiLeaks is no longer able to expose war crimes and corruption as in the past. His imprisonment and US government surveillance and restrictions on WikiLeaks’ funding wards off potential whistleblowers. He fears that other media outlets are not filling the vacuum.

So, no funding, government surveillance, and that pesky prison sentence. All decent-sized roadblocks. Wikileaks still has reach though, should he want to fight the good fight again. Aside from Assange’s obvious celebrity, Wikileaks’ Twitter/X profile still boasts 5.7 million followers, even if the inhumane treatment of Assange will ward off potential whistleblowers, as he points out. But, as we discussed, Assange is/was a world-class computer hacker. Get those documents yourself, Assange, like you did as a pesky teen!

There’s also the political route to consider. Assange for PM? After all, one of the storylines that’s fallen by the wayside somewhat over the years is Assange’s failed Senate bid back in 2013, where he launched a Wikileaks political party from the Ecuadorean embassy, at one point posting a Farnham parody video pointing fun at Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

In fact, he only launched the party after taking umbrage at Julia Gillard labelling Wikileaks “illegal”, despite advice to the contrary from the AFP. He basically mounted a political party out of spite.

An interview he did with The Age around that time shows what type of candidate he would be.

Of his political leanings, Assange said he “could be described as a libertarian”, and would prioritise more transparency in government – “the politics of understanding before acting”, as he puts it.

Assange noted “very little difference between Liberal and Labor – especially once they get into government. Labor suffers more from cronyism, while the Liberals care more for big business”.

He slammed the government for “the betrayal of the rights and interests of people by political insiders, operating in their own interests” and wished to fight for “right of citizens to live their lives free from state interference”.

He also said he would be “a fierce defender of press freedom… even though I have known only too well smear by unethical media” (which sounds quite Shakespearean) and would “absolutely” use parliamentary privilege to squash court-imposed gag orders.

Sounds like a contender. Of course, the Wikileaks party took just 0.62% of the national vote in 2013, with Assange taking 1.18% in Victoria, but as he cheerily pointed out to the ABC following the failed bid: “We are the second largest vote count for the new parties after Clive Palmer’s party, which had a billion bucks behind it. I think that’s a pretty good outcome.”

So do I. But that was 11 years ago. Since then, Assange is arguably in a much better and more prominent position to make such a run. I imagine his debating skills might have softened, given he spent 15 years mostly in isolation, but I would love Assange in the political ring again, trading barbs with Barnaby, making mutton of Dutton. But it’s a long shot.

So, how about radio? A medium that has been in decline since the 1960s, yet boasts the highest paid media personalities in the country. It’s immediate, it commands a huge audience. I’m not suggesting Fifi, Hughesy, and Julian in the morning – although wouldn’t that be something? But, surely Assange could score a 2GB contract to rival, if not Kyle and Jackie O’s FM windfall, then at least Ray Hadley’s $3.5 million a year. Assange’s surprisingly strong strine would be a welcome voice on the airwaves, and I’d love to hear him discussing traffic congestion solutions with Alistair from Parramatta. Also, imagine the sizzle at the end of each talk-break: “After Kings Of Leon, we expose war atrocities in a little-known region. Stay locked in.”

He may be slightly hamstrung if he wants to operate in Australia without fear or favour, given our defamation laws are quite crippling (something Assange could sort out as PM). But the US doesn’t seem to be a smart option, either, despite the proliferation of 24/7 talk back news channels that would jump at the chance to add him to their roster of crazies. The US seems a little miffed about Assange at the moment. Best to stay away for a while.

Of course, there’s an empty chair over at the ABC as Media Watch host. Man, imagine! You think Paul Barry’s a hard marker; imagine Assange tearing apart a Daily Mail lifestyle journalist while reminding viewers he took on the FBI as a teenager and escaped, then exposed the CIA, NSA, and US Army, and went to prison for it.

But why would he bother with any of this? Assange has played an outsized role in exposing the evils of American warfare, the need for press freedom, the overreach of politicians and governments, and the general horribleness of Hillary Clinton, and was martyred for it. He has done his job – and it was a job well done. As his lawyer said after Assange was set free: “He performed a tremendous public service.”

So forget the next step.

The man has barely been outside in over a decade. He’s a blonde, six-foot-two middle-age Aussie. He needs some sun, some fun, to be freshly shocked at the rising costs of Golden Gaytimes and how shit Neighbours has gotten.

He should do as Paul Kelly once advised in song, and simply “find a beach with a nice little break, and catch wave after wave after wave.”

Enjoy your weekend.

Aside from Assange fever, this week saw major restructuring at Seven and Nine, with hundreds of staffers across both organisations being made redundant.

Up to 200 jobs will go at Nine, while major executives have left Seven, including Mel Hopkins, who spoke to Mumbrella after learning of her redundancy.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.