THE much-hyped draft legislation to “reform” the media in Australia isn’t even released yet, and already a storm of controversy is set to greet it; Labor dismisses charges that it seeks to control the press, whilst opponents scream of attempts at censorship and the death of free speech.
It promises to be another ugly bunfight over another ugly Gillard government policy, and from what is already known it seems clear Labor’s media “reforms” are just as clueless as its mining tax and some of the other policy shockers it’s embarked upon, like “cash for clunkers,” “pink batts,” and the notorious “Building the Education Revolution” program.
I’m not going to get into too much depth tonight; we’ll see what the legislation — in all its wart-ridden glory — contains tomorrow, and talk about this issue again in a few days’ time.
Already, however, the portents are ominous.
I’ve got a vested interest in this; not only do I come from a media background spanning nearly 20 years, but as a freelance commentator and blogger (who, incidentally, is hostile to the Left by instinct and intellectual bent) I’m keen to see what measures the bill might contain to “regulate” what I have to say, or how I say it.
There are hundreds — if not thousands — of bloggers and independent providers of political opinion and comment who fall into the same boat, and many of these are far less friendly to the Left than I am; it’s well known that the unregulated but booming section of the media that we collectively represent is a source of great frustration to the Left, but of course the criticism only applies to those of us who are sympathetic to the mainstream Right, and have the audacity to say so.
Any attempt to legislate “fairness” (read: enforced sycophantic dross a la KCNA or Al-Jazeera) into my opinions will be stonily met with a curt two-word response, I assure you…
I raise this issue of “fairness” because Neil Mitchell was talking about it on 3AW this morning; he mentioned that the Murdoch press is apparently singled out for treatment.
Mitchell raised the point that News Media, to the extent the proposed laws provide, needs to introduce “fairness” to its political comment and opinion pieces.
It’s hardly surprising that such a notion would be raised; after all, the ALP and the Left generally have railed against the “Tory press” for decades, and when they do so, they mean the Murdoch press.
Which, in turn is somewhat perplexing, because the same voices rarely — if ever — raise themselves a decibel over the Fairfax press, which in other quarters has come to be regarded as a loudspeaker for their own interests.
(It’s also why the Left is so outraged/panicked/desperate over the shareholdings in Fairfax of mining magnate Gina Rinehart).
Apparently there is to be a “Public Interest Media Advocate” created as part of these so-called reforms; exactly what constitutes “public interest” would seem a subjective consideration indeed, and I would venture to say that such an office is no more than a brazen exercise in raw power politics.
The office may as well be called the “Political Interest Media Advocate” and headquartered in Sussex Street in Sydney: the motive and the intent are that blatant.
Julia Gillard has had the temerity to liken this mooted new office to those of the head of the ACCC, and to High Court judges: according to her, “there is no evidence anywhere that despite the fact that we appoint High Court judges, which we do, that we somehow get beneficial decisions from them.”
That, in itself, is rubbish: High Court judges are political appointments; and whilst this column would never seek to presume to criticise their Worships’ suitability for the Bench, it does remain the fact that judiciaries around the world that are politically appointed earn their reputations for judicial activism — and that stems directly from the appointment process in the first place.
The mainstream media industry is howling; among its criticisms is the claim it hasn’t been adequately consulted — a charge easy to believe when it is considered that the mining tax, for example, was essentially a commercial pact negotiated between the federal government and three large mining companies to the exclusion of every other operator in the industry.
Arguments about media mergers, media diversity and the concentration of media ownership in given markets might have more credence, and perhaps more credibility.
But it remains to be seen whether that aspect of the proposed reforms are a botch too, and again — given the track record of this government, and its unrivalled capacity to make a complete mess of virtually anything it touches, I’d almost bet tens that this will simply prove to be another instance of the same thing happening.
Labor figures — including the relevant minister, Communications spokesman Stephen Conroy — have, thus far, proven unable or unwilling to answer simple questions around the operability of the proposed reforms, and how key aspects of those reforms might function.
Which is why I’m saying that whilst I want to flag this issue now, we’ll wait a little longer and see what the letter of the detail has to reveal.
Even so, the whole thing stinks of censorship, an attempt to stymie the dissemination of opposing viewpoints, and a move to grab control over media content under the easy-to-use and readily-abused cover of acting “in the public interest.”
From what I’ve seen and heard so far, News CEO Kim Williams probably has it about right when he slams the touted reform package as amounting to “Soviet-style media reforms.”
We will see.
But I would simply make the point that it is impossible to regulate the press without compromising and/or losing the freedom of the press; and governments who seek to do so attack the one independent means open in a democratic system of governance to hold the government of the day — and its opponents — rigorously to account.