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Australian Media Madness

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.


Chris Harper

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.


  1. MickC says:

    This is precisely what Leveson was appointed to do-and will.

    Such little freedom of speech as the UK possesses is about to be “euthanised”.

  2. Bandit 1 says:

    Depressing development. Great letter. I’d redo this bit, though: “If I am presented with a choice between free and open speech, and flouting the law, then free speech is the only option open to me.”

    It doesn’t make sense at the mo as it’s a choice of one. ‘Accepting censorship and thus obeying the law’ (or words to that effect) should be the other option.

    Also, teeny typo: “My father gave six years of his live being shot at”

    Fucking fascists. We’re going to have to hang them. And they’ll have no-one to blame but themselves.

  3. CountingCats says:



  4. TDK says:

    I hesitate because I’m not a regular commentator.

    The question you need to think about at the start is are you attacking this because of your position in the debate or because of general principle. I would assume that you would be just as outraged by a Conservative muzzling of the press.

    That being so I would suggest you make it less partisan and more about principle. For example why be critical of the “New Progressive Establishment” when you are arguing for the right to be critical of the Establishment, full stop.

    Second, focus more on the wrongness of the idea than on your willingness to break the law. The balance currently is 3:4 para’s. On the same note, say you are willing to go to jail, instead of saying you are intending to break the law – it comes across as better. It also implies you note the distinction between lawlessless and civil disobedience.

    Third, drop the final para: never admit you haven’t read a full report and don’t use ad hominem.

  5. CountingCats says:

    TDK, comment all you wish.

    Problem with your jail comment, that may not be an option. I don’t know what the punishments will be as yet.

    The end para is meant to question the quality of the report, raising questions about its intellectual quality. Too ad hom you think?

    Some changes made.

  6. RAB says:

    Needless to say we have to keep fighting this scumbaggery with every last breath in our bodies!

    Slightly off topic, but only slightly. The “Our of sight, out of mind” tobacco law has arrived. I was just in my local Co-op buying some fags, and they are now all behind shutters of course. It took the morons who worked there a fuckin age to find my brand even when I could point to them… ” no up a bit and left, no left! you do know right from left? the Winston with the red flash, no not the blue flash! Sheesh!” So you can imagine the scene now.

    There is a queue of very pissed off people stretching around the block, trying to get to the check outs.

  7. TDK says:

    Much better IMHO

    I understand your comment about jail. The point is that you accept the consequences but intend to continue anyway. The word “Jail” is not essential, just establishing that is a qualitative difference between your actions and those of a common criminal.

    On the Ad hom in the final para, you haven’t raised any questions, you’ve asserted. To raise questions, take an extract from the report, show why it’s shoddy and then you can follow on with “this would shame a… “. On the other hand you have an MPs limited attention span, so you don’t want to be overlong. Perhaps point them to somewhere where the report is deconstructed and then assert.

    I guess it depends upon your MP. If they are sympathetic or antagonistic to start with then an ad hom won’t make any difference either way. How will it play with someone on the fence? How will it play with someone who believes in AGW but doesn’t think the government should restrict free speech?

  8. Lynne says:

    Mass disobedience. They don’t have nearly enough Gestapo government enforcement officers to lock you all up.

    The letter works well. Nicely put.

  9. Sam Duncan says:

    The final paragraph isn’t ad hom at all.

    Ad hominem attacks the man, avoiding his argument: “X is a jerk with ginger hair who isn’t worth listening to. Are you really going to take the word of a man who drives a brown Morris Marina and listens to Coldplay?”. The avoidance of the argument is the important bit. Cats is criticizing Finkelstein’s work, and by extension the quality of his argument, not the man himself.

    Having said that, I might leave it out too. It looks like an afterthought to a very well-reasoned letter.

  10. Paul Marks says:

    The left used to say “we are against what you call economic liberty – but we are in favour of civil liberty (ies)”.

    We (libertarians and free market conservatives) used to argue that the leftists were being inconsistent and that one could not really divide liberty up in this way.

    It now appears that the establishment left agrees with us – but in a very bad way.

    They are now against all liberty – “economic liberty” “civil liberties” (such as freedom of speech).

    They are against it all.

  11. Paul Marks says:

    Almost (but not quite) needless to say – the BBC spin on this Australian story was to stress the control of News International of media in Australia.

    As with Britain – the war on Murdoch is all the left will talk about (and they use it as an excuse for just about anything).

  12. CountingCats says:


    News Ltd, the original Murdoch vehicle, owns roughly 30% of Australian newspaper titles, but sells about 70% of newspapers.

    If Murdoch is dominant it is because Australians choose to buy from him in preference to other publishers. We have choice.

    Further, the enquiry did not look at media ownership, it was not part of its remit, so for the BBC to stress that aspect was not just irrelevant but positively misleading.

    Write them one of your famous letters.

  13. Paul Marks says:

    I know Cats.

    As for the BBC – I have given up writing them letters.

    Even gross errors of fact are just stuck to (by the BBC), so it is pointless pointing out what you (have quite rightly) said, to them.

    As for censorship (for that is what the media enquiry is clearly about), the situation is indeed vile – and these “great and good” types are pushing for it to be even more vile.

    You are 100% right about this.

  14. Lynne says:

    Good luck.

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