AS WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was granted bail by a British judge in London today, the world watched both in awe and alarm the trial of a man, who has been hailed varyingly as a hero and deplored as a hacker and trouble-maker.
The arrest and subsequent detention of Assange has opened a Pandora's Box with his votaries and opponents clashing over the issues of freedom of expression and safeguarding official secrets and privacy.
Of late, WikiLeaks has been hogging the headlines worldwide after its leak of thousands of diplomatic messages, which mostly showed the United States in poor light and strained its ties with countries which matters most to it.
Deprecating WikiLeaks and its founder, US President Barack Obama had to resort to damage-control measures to placate European and some of the Latin American countries.
Well, the ploy and methods adopted by Assange in exposing the mighty may be debatable. It is also debatable whether he has gone overboard, flouting journalistic norms, in using stuff from personal mails.
It may also be true that some of the texts in the diplomatic message leaks may have been quoted out of context to embarrass the high and mighty. But what is undeniable is the reportage on US army highhandedness in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But for WikiLeaks the world wouldn't have woken up to the video footage showing US soldiers shooting journalists and innocent civilians in Baghdad. But for WikiLeaks the world wouldn't have known the secret US accounts of the war in Afghanistan.
The glaring curbs and restrictions imposed by the army on prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay camp wouldn't have come to light. Similarly, the dumping of toxic things in the Ivory Coast by the corporate giant Trafigura would have gone unreported and unnoticed.
While many governments are enraged by Assange, the computer-programming wizard, who got embroiled in hacking cases in the past, there are quite a few professionals and celebrities, who are backing him. The former hacker has also been termed 'Cyber Osama'.
The WikiLeaks saga, irrespective of the merits or transgressions, has given rise to a new sort of cyber skirmish. The opponents and adherents of WikiLeaks are battling on the Net, raising fears of obliterating the line dividing ethics, decency and probity from anarchy and duplicity.
Whistle-blowing set-ups may relish exposing the powerful. But their prime motive should be the public good and humane and free from personal prejudices. The governments too have to be more restraint in dealing with whistle-blowers and shun from muzzling the media.
Assange has alleged that financial institutions are blocking funds to his website.
The vengeance and zeal with which Assange was arrested and detained on charges of rape give credence to the charges against the distressed and affected countries of being authoritative and oppressive.
It would do well if governments can be more enduring of the investigative media instead of going all out against them.
Carrying out their work with ethics and integrity, the whistle-blowing organisations will definitely be serving public interest and social cause.
-The Brunei Times/Asia News Network