Assange went a bit too far
The whistleblower Julian Assange could have made “a thousand better stories” if he had edited his sources and declined to include the personal lives of people around the world, Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson told RT.
Branson believes journalism and the modern blogosphere, is a significant force which can change the world and solve conflicts. Touching upon deadly fighting in Syria, the businessman said the war in the region is a key issue for him and The Elder organization, which he’s a member of.
RT’s correspondent Marina Kosareva spoke to Richard Branson on the sidelines of a business forum in Moscow.
On Wednesday the mogul businessman and Russia’s Nano Corporation, Rusnano, CEO Anatoly Chubais announced the creation of joint Virgin Green fund.
RT: Mr. Branson thank you for joining us today. I would like to start with back when you were 15 years old – you decided to leave school, you wanted to start a magazine and you pretty much dreamt of changing the world. That didn’t exactly happen but you did manage to achieve a lot of things. Are you happy with the way the world is right now?
RB: The world is extremely good to me. I have had the most enjoyable life I think out of anybody I know and I am still loving it. I spend quite a lot of my time now on issues like conflict resolutions in the world. Obviously, if you live in Syria today, the world is not a happy place at all and we have a wonderful organization called The Elders that is trying to help resolve that conflict. In fact Lakhdar Brahimi, who is one of the ‘Elders’, was here in Russia yesterday, meeting people from Russia to try to get agreement as quickly as possible so that we could spare people of Syria any more misery. And I think if we can get Russia on board, America on board and the Syrian government on board, hopefully we can get this problem solved.
RT: How does this actually work?
RB: The Elders are actually an organization of 12 people that Nelson Mandela set up. They are people like President Carter, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Archbishop Tutu – people with high authority. They work as a group to try to resolve conflict and sometimes the individual elders…Lakhdar Brahimi has been asked by the United Nations to try to work with the various countries involved with Syria to try to get this problem resolved. Since you asked am I happy with the world, obviously Syria is a miserable place which needs to be resolved, and it should be the top priority, I think of every caring politician to get this problem resolved.
RT: Of course there are many casualties in Syria right now, we have seen that over past couple of months, but you yourself have faced danger a number of times, especially on your travels on hot-air balloons across the ocean. What made you do that over and over again? I imagine that must have been so painful for your family as well. The amount of good-bye notes that you have probably written.
RB: I always love a challenge and if somebody says ‘Nobody has flown around the world in a balloon’ or ‘Nobody has climbed the mountain’ – I just say ‘let’s try’. And I am sure that wasn’t easy for my family, but now my children are doing this with me. So we just climbed Montblanc – highest mountain in Europe – a couple of months ago. We just kite-surfed together across the English Channel, we are going to space together. So my children, I think, understand why I like to live life to its full and they are now doing that with me.
RT: Is your wife happy that your children are doing the exact same thing that you did?
RB: I don’t think she is wildly happy, but she certainly loves seeing the children doing what they do. And that’s what mothers are for. We try not to take unnecessary risk. We have wonderful, exciting challenges, but I try to make 100 per cent sure that I bring the children home.
RT: Let’s talk about the time when you were editing the magazine. You set up the magazine to try to stop the war in Vietnam from what I understand. Do you think journalism can actually change the world and the course of things that are happening?
RB: I think journalists can certainly change the world and the Internet can change the world. Through the Internet, through journalism and the public the Arab Spring happened. I blog on Twitter and Google Plus, and Facebook. If you have an army of followers and you want to try to sort out a problem in the world, and you got other friends who have got a big influence to do the same you can solve this problems out. I campaigned a lot for the oceans and tried to make people stop killing sharks and you know we have got quite a lot of law changes around the world thanks to the Internet. So, journalism and the public work is a very important.
RT: But journalism can go to extremes, especially with what we have seen with the News International. Where do you think UK journalism is heading?
RB: There is responsible journalism in the UK and there is irresponsible journalism. There is one or two newspapers that are very sort of extreme in their thinking. But the good thing is that the Internet is counterbalancing it. We used to have a newspaper in England and we still do, called the Daily Mail, and it really influences people in a slightly negative way. But I think the internet will hopefully start balancing them now.
RT: What is your take on the whistleblowers of today, for example Julian Assange? Do you think he is a hero or a villain?
RB: I would not call him a hero or a villain. I think the mistake he made was not editing…He had incredible information and he could have made thousands of great stories without putting in the lives of some people around the world. So, I think, perhaps he went a bit too far. Generally, I am 100 per cent for freedom of the press, but in this situation…We had a lot of dealings in Zimbabwe in trying to bring about democracy and then suddenly the public could see it and so could Robert Mugabe. Sometimes you don’t want a dictator who is being doing bad things to find out what other people are trying doing to bring democracy. You know, it could put lives in danger.
RT: Your upbringing was different from your children’s upbringing. And if we talk about the youth right now in the UK, do you think they have goals? We have seen the riots took place in 2011. What are UK teens like right now? Do you think they are lack of motivation?
RB: I think the UK is not as politically-minded as they were in the sixties. They should have stopped the Iraq war, I mean there were big demonstrations but there should have been even bigger demonstrations. I think the very thing that the youth are not loud, not vocal enough in this generation. I think when politicians take countries to war, we have to stop them doing that. Wars are easy to start, but almost impossible to stop. They call so much misery. Politicians should be clever enough to get rid of leaders who are leading badly, without having to involve millions of people in the bloodshed of war. Young people…there are too many people unemployed and I think personally that nobody should be allowed to be unemployed. You can share the jobs that are available with everybody around, which might mean that people have a three-day weekend instead of a two-day weekend or whatever. But there is room to make sure that everybody has a job. And I think that would resolve a lot of the problems in the world.
RT: A little bit a of general question now. Would you say you are a dreamer, or visionary or an entrepreneur, or all of that?
RB: I dream big and then I try to make my dreams become reality. I dreamed of going to the moon one day and in the end I couldn’t decide and not to wait the Russian Spaceship Company or American Spaceship Company, we are building our own space ships to take us into space. I think everybody should try to dream above what they are capable of and then try to catch up with your dreams.
RT: Regarding Virgin Atlantic in particular and everything that happened recently. You lost a bit to Easyjet, I know you are fighting for it, from the latest reports that we have seen. What is next?
RB: Virgin is a very quality airline. It also has a large business class section. And we think Virgin Atlantic is more the kind of airline that people in Moscow would want to use between London and Heathrow and flying from Gatwick in a quite a small plane is not a good idea, so we think that the civil aviation authority made the wrong decision. But obviously the ideal scenario is that you have three carriers flying to Moscow. I mean if Moscow is going to expand and if Russia is going to expand, the more airlines you have flying people into this country the better. So , I am speaking with you know…Hopefully meeting Prime Minister Medvedev this afternoon and will see what can be done, fingers crossed.
RT: And there have been a lot of rumors about you being in Russia very frequently. Everyone is trying to figure out would you be investing in the country? Are there any other projects? Is there anything you can tell us?
RB: We are gonna be doing a lot with Russia. Today we announced that we would gonna invest a lot of money into trying to reduce peoples energy output in a positive way. Russia’s had all its oil and they never really tried to preserve energy and if you can preserve energy, then you can export more oil. We are putting 2 or 3 hundred million dollars into Russia into trying to invest in companies that can come up in good ways of saving energy.
RT: But nothing in particular right now that you can mention?
RB: The Virgin Green Fund that we are going to start from today. We will be looking at mobile phones, will be looking at quite a lot of other investments as well.