TEN Late News presenter Hamish MacDonald has been absent from his desk in recent weeks, trekking the globe for his new special Julian Assange: A TEN News Special.
MacDonald took a DVD of Underground: The Julian Assange Story to the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Assange is claiming diplomatic asylum, to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is wanted for questioning in relation to a rape and sexual assault investigation.
MacDonald went to the embassy with Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson but didn’t get to meet the man behind Wikileaks.
“I tried very, very hard,” he tells TV Tonight.
“I hand delivered a copy of the movie to the embassy a few Sunday nights ago, with a couple of beers and some popcorn and he had a very favourable response to the movie. He particularly likes the actor who plays him.
“He was pausing the film every 15 minutes to explain the context surrounding certain scenarios portrayed in the film. I think there’s stuff in there that probably even the people quite close to him are not really familiar with.
“He had already agreed with the makers of the movie to get a copy so it was neither here nor there as far as getting an interview.”
Travelling to London, Sweden and Washington MacDonald has collated an impressive roll call of guests for his profile on Assange including the first TV interview with Assange’s biological father John Shipton.
Others include Gavin MacFayden [Supporter], Vaughan Smith [Friend], Jon Karlung [Bahnhof Data Centre], Karin Olsson [Expressen Newspaper], Hanne Kjoller [Writer], Per E Samuelson [Swedish Defence Lawyer], Karin Rosander [Swedish Prosecution Authority], Kevin Zeese [Bradley Manning Support Network], Paul Rosenweig [Heritage Foundation], Tom Drake [Whistleblower], James Ball [Wikileaks Defector] and Kristinn Hrafnsson [Wikileaks Spokesperson].
“We’ve spoken to people who haven’t spoken before and they give new and revealing insight into exactly what went on. Aside from Julian the people who were essential to the story there have kind of been forgotten,” MacDonald explains.
“There’s been a pretty broad perception that there are all these trumped-up charges and I don’t think anyone has ever looked that closely at what happened to the women at the centre of this. So we’ve spoken to people pretty close to them. They’re real people who have had bad experiences, and as much as the world might think this is all part of a conspiracy there’s another side to that story.
“One of the people we spoke to said it’s like a chess game. Any move could see the end of the game for him, so you kind of get a sense of the intensity that surrounds him. In part it feels like a real-life spy novel or crime novel. But they don’t see it that way at all, they see it as a very, very serious situation.”
MacDonald admits the views on Assange differ wildly amongst those he interviewed.
“He’s quite a polarising character, he’s enigmatic. It’s very difficult to get a handle on him because he’s someone that people have very strong opinions about. The people that like him, really like him and are quite devoted. The people that don’t are vitriolic in their descriptions of him.”
It also left him asking questions about whether Assange should be seen as a journalist or an activist?
“Certainly it’s hard to argue that he’s not performing some of the functions of a journalist. But that leads you to the question of can you be equally both journalist and activist? Can you be more journalist than activist or more activist than journalist? Those are quite difficult notions, I think,” he says.
“But it’s probably a realm in which he feels quite comfortable.
“It’s quite hard to get an accurate picture because it’s the grey areas where you find that kind of accuracy. So when you’ve got people so far apart on either side, it creates difficulty trying to build a complete picture. And often when you put those descriptions to people that have a view on him, they don’t recognise him at all.
“We all want heroes and villains but sometimes they’re the same person. That’s something that’s stuck with me over the last little while.”
Julian Assange: A TEN News Special. airs 8pm Sunday on TEN followed by Underground: The Julian Assange Story.