Julian Assange’s deal with Canongate leaked


by Alex Porter

Canongate, the Edinburgh based independent publishers, has signed a deal with Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange to publish his memoirs.

For the rights Assange will receive $800,000 from American publisher Alfred A. Knopf and £325,000 ($502,000) from Canongate. Assange explained that as Wikileaks has been prevented by Visa, MasterCard and PayPal from receiving donations the money will go toward paying his legal bills, related to allegations of rape against him in Sweden, and helping keep the WikiLeaks operations going. The deal is a risk for the publishers who could face the same sanctions from the credit card firms as Wikileaks itself.

Wikileaks and indeed Assange are now household names around the world after distributing 250,000 leaked US State Department documents to newspaper editors leading to public disclosure of diplomatically sensitive opinions which have been embarrassing to the White House.

Sensationally, the cables leaked to The Guardian newspaper showed that the last UK Labour government was privately promoting the early release of the convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. At the same time Labour politicians were attacking the Scottish government over the decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds claiming that the release was an embarrassment to Scotland. Indeed, Labour MSPs called for the resignation of Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill over the issue.

There was also a campaign, given prominence by BBC Scotland, implying that the SNP had released Megrahi as part of a business deal with BP. The leaks exonerated the SNP government and showed that it was infact Labour leaders who pushed for Megrahi’s release on commercial grounds. BBC Scotland did not give prominance to this aspect of the leaks. Instead Reporting Scotland on the day of the leaks painted an altogether different picture of their general thrust by presenting them as having damaged the First Minister and Scottish government.

Ironically, the Edinburgh based publishers were trying to keep the Assange deal secret but news leaked out. Last week the Brisbane Times said: “The British publisher was trying to keep the book secret but, as Assange would know more than most, things get out when they are not intended to. The deal was done by Canongate,..”

The Assange deal is a coup for the Edinburgh firm Canongate Books and its Managing Director Jamie Byng best known for discovering Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi. The memoirs, the manuscript of which Assange must deliver by March for publication later in 2011, will undoubtedly be hugely popular. In another irony involving Canongate and the Whitehouse, Byng previously secured the rights to publish President Obama’s book Dreams From My Father.