According to Gavin MacFadyen, director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism at City University London, Wikileaks plays a sorely needed role in protecting the public interest. "Their site is a valuable read for us and for most investigative reporters in the U.K.," he said. "It has provided extraordinary material and prompted a number of investigations."
Critics raise ethical concerns about the site's anonymity and some of the documents it releases, and complain it can be used to "leak" fake documents. Its decision last year to publish a list of banned Web sites in Australia, which included links to child pornography sites, was seen by some as misguided.
"When you start to argue for free speech by disseminating child pornography, you know your argument has lost legitimacy," the U.K magazine Bad Idea wrote at the time.
Assange argues that censorship in any form is wrong. Politicians use child pornography as a blunt stick to ban any content they disapprove of, he said, because the topic stirs such high emotions.
Publishing the Australian blacklist earned Wikileaks a police raid in Germany, which was just finalizing some of the first national Web censorship laws to be adopted by a Western country. Police raided the home of the owner of Wikileaks' German URL, though no formal charges have been filed. Assange said Wikileaks is ready to publish Germany's Internet blacklist as soon as it's available.
The Wikileaks leader has had trouble of his own with police over a very different matter -- the publication of a document on government corruption in Kenya known as the Kroll report.
"I actually had six armed men break into my compound after sending someone in the previous day to disarm the electric fence," he said. "They had a fight with my guards, everyone woke up, then they ran away. I don't think it was a threat on my life, I think they just wanted to intimidate me a little bit."
A journalist by training, Assange seemed to treat the invasion as a badge of honor, a sign that Wikileaks is getting the attention it wants. It's easy to believe that he and the rest of the Wikileaks team enjoy wrestling in the mud. Most of them left paying jobs to join the site, which is a long way from paying for itself.