Hello, Good Evening and Welcome to My Country House Prison: Assange Makes His Talk Show Debut
Taylor, Jerome, The Independent (London, England)
Deferential interview with Hezbollah leader marks WikiLeaks founder's first Russia Today appearance
If you can't beat them, join them. Julian Assange has long complained that mainstream media organisations and international broadcasters have given him a hard time. The WikiLeaks founder portrays himself as a crusader for truth, yet is notoriously touchy when it comes to answering difficult questions about his own organisations. But that hasn't put him off reinventing himself as a talk-show host, the results of which were finally revealed yesterday.
Despite being under house arrest for nearly 500 days, the Australian-born transparency campaigner has struck a deal with the Kremlin-backed broadcaster Russia Today to conduct a series of interviews with "people who normally don't get a voice".
The first episode was broadcast yesterday afternoon and quickly made global headlines as it emerged that Mr Assange's first guest was Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shia militant network Hezbollah.
While Mr Nasrallah occasionally speaks to the Arab press through Hezbollah's television station, he rarely gives interviews to Western outlets especially after his group's 2006 war with Israel forced the 51-year-old cleric into permanent hiding.
With his subject unable to travel to Britain - which proscribes Hezbollah as a terrorist group - the show's host had to make do with interviewing his guest by video link from a secret location. The WikiLeaks founder, meanwhile, has been forced to conduct and film all his interviews from Ellingham Hall, the sprawling country house in Norfolk where he is confined under his bail conditions.
In an interview publicising the series with Russia Today, Mr Assange described how his own difficulties in dealing with the mainstream media made him an interviewer who could relate to his subjects.
"As someone who has given a lot of interviews before and has been on the receiving end of a very aggressive interviewing style I found that I wasn't giving much away in these interviews," he said. "Pretty quickly you learn to give your standard defensive responses so they can't take what you said out of context. And I wanted to have a different sort of approach with other people."
With Mr Nasrallah, the softly-spoken Australian was largely deferential, asking just one question on Hezbollah's firing of rockets into northern Israel, questioning him on his childhood memories and even sharing a joke about computer encryption. …