You may have heard a little of the uproar here in Australia over the report by Ray Finkelstein, following the completion of his enquiry into the Australian Media. For some idea of what it is all about James has commented, as has Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova and Simon at Australian Climate Madness. I have little to add that they haven’t said.
A couple of minutes ago I wrote the following letter to my MP, loosely based on this one. This is a draft, a work in progress, subject to change without notice, and I would appreciate any input:
Dear Ms Andrews,
I write to express great concern about the contents of Judge Finkelstein’s report into the media, which recommends both extraordinary and unacceptable powers of state interference into newspapers, TV and Internet commentary. It is my opinion that anyone who sees these recommendations as appropriate will inevitably, one day, both extend them and abuse them. The reports comments on climate scepticism are sufficient to convince me that these powers will be abused to censor dissent.
Please be advised, there are no circumstances in a free, open and democratic society in which the state, or any subsidiary body, can reasonably have the authority to determine journalistic ethics or codes of conduct, or to determine whether any piece of writing meets or breaches them. Any such authority would be anathema, and by its very existence destructive of both freedom and democratic discourse. I run a blog which is overtly critical of the principles, programs and activities of powerful political groupings, and I find it personally worrying, in the light of this report, that these are the specific groups who are the most vociferously intolerant of criticism. No political commentator, however large or small, should have this concern. In Australia they should be protected by the law, not threatened by it.
As a blogger I will not submit to the authority of any body established as a result of this report. I will say as I wish, constrained only by the reasonable laws on defamation and my own sense of decent behaviour. I will not accept that any state appointed official has anything to say on ethics which will be worth hearing. If I am presented with a choice between flouting the law in favour of free and open speech, and being bound by the law and accepting the authority of state appointed censors, then free speech is the only option open to me.
If implemented, civil disobedience will be the inevitable consequence of this report. It will result in many honest citizens putting integrity before legality, having been pushed into both mocking and breaking the law on a matter of principle. It is an affront to our democratic system and an assault on our freedom to participate in the marketplace of ideas.
It is the nature of government to expand, and mission creep is inevitable. Once a state mandated media watchdog is established growth in the extent of its authority, and in its power to coerce, will occur regardless of any well meant assurances we may be given at its inception.
My father gave six years of his life being shot at by people who, amongst other issues, wished to control what he could say, and even think. Unlike him I have never had to fight for my freedom, I have only ever enjoyed it. If Judge Finkelstein gets his way, that will change.
As a further comment, not on the recommendations, but on the report itself. Following my reading I regard it, rather than being the work of disciplined intellects, as being superficial, not even reaching the level of intellectual rigour demanded of a first year undergraduate. I am appalled at the quality of argument and surprised that it was considered worth presenting.
I urge you as a Member of Parliament, and as someone who espouses the principles of a liberal society, to speak up against this report, and it’s proposed a media watchdog.
Last modified: 6:25 AM GMT 7/3/12
Update: Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens, whiner in chief when it comes to the press questioning his policies rather than giving him a tongue bath whenever he appears. For years he was a minor figure in politics, and so wasn’t questioned too hard. Who cared? The Greens were soft and fluffy weren’t they? All about hugging trees and cuddling koalas. right? Now tho, the Greens support is necessary for this minority government to survive; when they say frog Gillard jumps. Some journalists are finally looking real hard at his policies, holding the hard left and lunatic reality up to the light, and he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like it one teensy little bit. In fact, this media enquiry was a sop to him. Delivered exactly what he wanted, too. Funny that.
‘’The howls of dismay about this are ridiculous and [they] need to stop abandoning the public interest and look forward to bolstering it,’’ he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Yep, the public interest defence, used by politicians when they have no rational argument left. What constitutes the public interest, of course, being what most closely aligns with his own desires. That the public interest may be being served by those few journalists who don’t fawn over him on sight goes straight past him.