How do you solve a problem like Julian Assange?

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

Julian Assange / Cancillería del Ecuador

After five-and-a-half years holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, the impasse over Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, is as solid as ever it was.

As stand-offs go, it’s a corker. Since Assange applied for political asylum at the embassy on 19 June, he’s been a virtual prisoner and there’s no release date in sight.

No wonder Mr Wikileaks tried to shake it up Taylor Swift-style over Christmas and New Year. Bored and frustrated with not being able to shake off his shackles, he treated fans to a hide-and-seek social media strategy that was similar to the pop star’s last year.

His Twitter account mysteriously went down then magically reappeared. After that came the cryptic tweets. One at 3am on New Year’s Day featured a 60-character code or encryption key and a link to the popular track ‘Paper Planes’ by British rapper MIA.

The MIA video set the internet alight as social media and message board users theorised and speculated over the meaning of lyrics such as “If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name”, and “I’ve got more records than the KGB, So, uh, no funny business”.

Had Assange broken free and was he warning off his enemies?

Meanwhile, the cost of the 24-hour Metropolitan Police surveillance of the Embassy is now estimated at £35m and climbing. The Tories lied to the public (no surprise there) by saying the bill had gone down because officer numbers have been reduced. The truth is plain clothes police have replaced uniformed officers attributed to different budgets to disguise the true cost of this illegal Cameron-era madness.

Assange's lawyers continue to land body blows on the Government. They proved recently that the Crown Prosecution service did indeed delete critical emails in his defence, and they decisively won the argument that Wikileaks is a real media organisation. This means that his de facto detainment encroaches on freedom of the Press which is sacrosanct in both the USA and UK.

Assange is a journalist, not a random hacker, who has done nothing more than Woodward and Bernstein might have done to bring Watergate to our attention in less tech orientated times.

Even the United Nations is on his side, ruling not once but twice that he has been arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorian Embassy by the British. The UK government tried but failed to overturn that resolution. Then in May last year, Sweden dropped its rape investigation.

You would have thought that would be the end of it. The world has told the UK they are illegally making Julian Assange's life hell. But Theresa May isn't listening. Again.

So, with the world saying ‘let him walk free’ and our Prime Minister stubbornly refusing to budge, what tactical PR moves are we left with?

Celebrity supporters have come and gone, although Pamela Anderson remains a loyal and close friend, as is Vivienne Westwood. As I see it, there are two possible ways forward.

Assange can sit tight and play the Trump card. Conspiracy theorists on the internet are convinced a deal has been done already to pardon the Wikileaks founder. After all, the damaging dossier of emails from Hillary Clinton arguably helped secure a win for Trump.

In fact, I’m told Assange didn’t get those emails from the Russians, but there's clearly a CIA agenda to blame Russia to speed up impeachment, which is still very much on the cards as mid-term elections draw near and the Democrats look likely to make gains.

The question is whether the US administration can arrange for President Trump to pardon the Wikileaks founder before his impeachment.

It’s worth remembering that Assange has not been indicted for any criminal offence in the United States, and neither has he committed any crime. Under the Supreme Court Decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and in the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times v. U.S. 403 U.S. 713 (1971), a journalist is allowed to accept and publish classified documents provided by other sources.

Still, even if he’s pardoned in the USA, Assange won’t just be able to walk free. There’s still the matter of him skipping bail in June 2012. The Metropolitan Police have confirmed they’d be duty bound to nick him once he steps outside the embassy.

The other option is to sit it out and wait for a Labour government that would look more favourably on his situation.

Back in 2013, Jeremy Corbyn said that history would be kind to Edward Snowden. The Labour leader has praised the moral courage of whistle-blowers such as Snowden and Bradley Manning. He also foresees that advanced technology used in information gathering today “will ultimately lead to a more open society and much more open government”.

In any case, the Australian government will have to pull its finger out and return Assange’s passport as he’ll need that to leave the Ecuadorian embassy. Where’s their loyalty to a fellow Australian?

Julian Assange is uncompromising and fearless, the most modern example of punk and this needs to be brought out in any PR campaign.

It should redirect the focus onto Wikileaks and its role as a fearless publisher upholding freedom of speech instead of the intense Twitter exchange between Assange and individuals in the US administration and intelligence

It’s also important for the public to be able to glimpse light at the end of the tunnel. People need to see, taste and feel what freedom with look like for Assange. Will he travel to Ecuador to say ‘Thank You’? It will be impossible for him to live there – too many undercover CIA operatives in Latin America who could take him out. Recent talk has been of him moving to Switzerland.

More needs to be made of the fact that Wikileaks has no political bias. They are nobody’s stooge. Their aim is to get to the truth at all costs.

Wikileaks stands by its claims of 100% authenticity, regardless of its sources. As Assange says: “Not like CNN, NBC or the New York Times, Wikileaks has a 100% authentication record, isn’t owned by oligarchs and didn’t lead America into a war based on lies.”

We need to be reminded that of what former US President Jimmy Carter said: “I did not deplore the Wikileaks revelations. They just made public what was actually the truth. Most often, the revelation of the truth, even if it’s unpleasant, is beneficial.”

It’s voices like these that need to come to the fore in creating a watertight campaign to break through the Assange impasse and shore up the Wikileaks case for good.

Bang On to Richard on email richard.hillgrove@6hillgrove.com and Twitter @6hillgrove

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.