The Guardian A Welcome Addition To Australia’s Mediascape

THE LAUNCH yesterday of British newspaper The Guardian‘s online Australian edition is welcome, timely, and deserving of support; it adds a refreshing third voice to mainstream media coverage in this country, and provides some much-needed diversity to coverage of the nation’s events.

In posting this afternoon, I simply wish to acknowledge The Guardian‘s presence on a computer screen (hopefully) near you; I am very pleased to see this long-mooted startup finally come to fruition.

I am a longtime reader of the original British Guardian site (and its newspaper when in England); I have always found its centrist approach to issues to be relevant, topical, and surprisingly balanced  when compared to other mass media enterprises either here or in the UK.

The Guardian will be published online only in Australia; it’s the way of the world, and in spite of being an old-style troglodyte still very happy to sit down with a newspaper proper, The Guardian‘s format is clear, simple to navigate, and easy to read.

Readers will find The Guardian Australia at www.guardian.co.uk/australia.

I wish The Guardian every possible success in its Australian venture, and urge all readers to get behind this exciting new media venture as well.

Kill Bill: Anti-Democratic Media “Reform” Legislation Canned

IN A FLUID day in federal politics, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has withdrawn legislation that, if passed, would have handed the government the power to regulate and censor the press; a lack of parliamentary support has forced Gillard to kill the bills, and now attention turns to her own survival.

This will be a reasonably short post, as I do intend to write again later today or tonight, but it seems the so-called media reforms being tarted around by Gillard and her Communications minister, Stephen Conroy, have met the end they deserved.

Citing a lack of support among crossbench MPs, Gillard has withdrawn four of the six bills from Parliament.

The two remaining bills — involving inoffensive changes to rules governing local content on television, and reductions in commercial broadcast licence fees — were passed yesterday with support from the Coalition.

I simply point out the remaining legislation should never have been tabled; this is Australia, not Soviet Russia, Communist China or North Korea; there is no justification or precedent for institutionalised state control of the media in this country.

Much has been made by Labor types of the scandal and fallout surrounding Murdoch operations in the UK, and the official responses to the Leveson inquiry that probed them by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government of David Cameron.

It is true that the measures being implemented by the Cameron government do impose a degree of regulation and state control upon the British press that does not exist in Australia.

But Fleet Street is a very different beast to the local media; and whilst Murdoch’s operations in the UK have justifiably come under fire in recent years — including a surveillance scandal that contributed to the decision to close down the notorious tabloid The News Of The World — there has never been any suggestion that the Australian operations of the Murdoch press are tainted by the same practices.

A dislike of what a free press writes is not in itself a justification in any way to regulate and censor the press to realise more favourable coverage from it — yet Labor tried to do it.

I will write more on this point at a later juncture, but aside from a colossal misjudgement in even presenting such odious legislation for debate, the ALP has handed the Coalition a powerful principle on which to build a potent point of difference to Labor: freedom, liberty, and the right to free speech in a democratic country.

Irrespective of what happens from here, and whether the laws are ever revived, Labor has now allowed the Coalition to forever paint it as the party of censorship, of stifling debate, and state control over the free flow of ideas.

It’s a reasonable own-goal by any measure, and a monumental balls-up.

Attention now turns to Julia Gillard, and the fraught issue of the ALP leadership.

Even since my article late last night, the rumours and muttering continue; as we speak, Simon Crean is said to be in talks on a deal to restore Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, and to serve as his deputy in what would presumably be portrayed as some type of cross-factional unity ticket.

Gillard is said to have lost at least one other cabinet minister overnight, in addition to potentially Crean and up to five additional leadership votes that are said to shift with him if he does a deal with the Rudd camp.

As I write (at 1pm, Melbourne time) there’s still more than enough time for something to happen this afternoon; like everyone else I will be following developments with an eagle eye, and will post again later on.

(In case anyone is wondering, I’m out of action now until about 6pm, so if I am delayed at all, I won’t be too far away if something interesting does occur before the end of the day).

ALP Media “Reforms:” Piers Akerman Sinks The Boot

GIVEN News Limited seems to be the hatred-fuelled target of the Gillard government’s attempts to control the media and instil “fairness” — code for enforced publication of pro-Labor sycophancy — it’s exquisitely ironic to share an article by the Murdoch stable’s most anti-Labor opinion writer.

Readers will know I have a lot of time for Piers Akerman; not just because his conservative musings largely mirror my own, but also because he simply makes a lot of good, old-fashioned common sense.

We briefly covered the issue of Labor’s so-called media reforms earlier this week, and whilst I do intend to return to the subject (issues notwithstanding, of course), tonight I want to share an excellent comment piece by Akerman that appeared in today’s issue of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Readers can read this excellent missive here.

What can I say?

The entire premise of a government exercising a discretionary power over the press is complete anathema to me; as I hinted in my article on Wednesday, if we’re going to go down that track, we might as well go and live in North Korea, with its repulsive state-sanctioned media and the illegality of dissent and of dissenting views.

The article I’m linking to tonight represents a powerful analysis of the pitfalls of these despicable “reforms” by a journalist for whom the freedom of the press is a favourite subject, and whose voice is arguably one of the most authoritative in the outraged chorus of opposition the ALP’s proposed measures have elicited.

I’ll be interested to see what people think here. And remember, unless you think being brainwashed is a great idea, you should be just as affronted as we are that a democratically elected government should even contemplate such an undemocratic suite of policy changes.

Media “Reform” Gillard Government’s Latest Clueless Policy Foray

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.

Stay tuned.

Just A Few Words: Media Inquiry In Australia

I’m going to make this brief; I’m still a bit crook. But the media inquiry being flagged by the federal government is undemocratic and wrong.

What puts the tin hat on it for me is that the Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, has flagged that a single regulator, with God-knows-what beefed-up powers, could “police” the media.

Conroy also wants to explore “media diversity” — an old euphemism for breaking up large media companies and rendering them, in bloc-terms, useless.

Can I just say that there’s not exactly an historical avalanche of investment into media companies in Australia; it’s true that News Corp, Fairfax and APN own the lion’s share, but there’s a dearth of people out looking for mainstream media investment opportunities in this country.

And the last time a really meaningful investment hit these shores — disgraced Canadian tycoon Conrad Black — he was hounded out of the country as fast as the agitators could get his head to spin.

(And that was well before Black was in disgrace).

But having said all of that (and having once worked for Fairfax for four and a half years in its advertising division) I must also say I, too, don’t like the idea of further concentration of media assets in this country — and my views on it are as an ordinary citizen. I have no loyalty to Fairfax.

Even so, I’m alarmed at the witch hunt apparently being developed by our so-called government and its Communist buddies over at the Greens.

All of this smacks of Stalinist tactics, and points in one direction and one direction only.

To bring the media to heel.

Speaking politically — and from the involvement I have had in the political process over the last quarter of a century — it’s a fact that at times, the media will give your side good coverage, and at times, you’d like to line the editors and journalists up and shoot them.

When the coverage is good, it’s excellent; and when it’s bad, you hate it.

That’s life.

That’s life in terms of the interaction between politics and the media.

The curious thing in all of this is that most of the press gallery journalists — not all, but most — are privately or openly sympathetic to the Left.

I just wonder how many of them have fallen into the “bad books” of late because they have dared to objectively question the current government and the current arrangements of government.

Certainly, the leader of the Communist Party Greens, Senator Bob Brown, has been looking for something with which to hit the Murdoch press so hard that it never stands up again, nor sees the light of day.

Or if it hypothetically did, to ensure the entity was emasculated.

And those who follow these matters in Australia know that not just the Greens, but the ALP as well, have resented the Murdoch press for years on account of its propensity to deliver balanced comment.

Or simply stated, it employs right-wing people and left-wing people.

One wonders whether the bleatings about bias are really about the fact Murdoch’s papers present both sides of the debate.

And the Fairfax press…perhaps I’d better not comment, but I don’t know why the ALP has an issue with them.

On the wider scale, this issue boils down to an attempt to, in equal measure, control and muzzle the press.

It must not succeed.

In a free and fair country, the “fourth estate” — the press — must be independent and in turn, free to comment.

The irony in all this brouhaha over a “media inquiry” is that media, by its nature, and by its evolutionary path, is fragmenting.

Anyone can now post a blog for example, and increasingly, these blogs are being featured in Fairfax and Murdoch publication vehicles.

(I’m not talking about me: yes, I’m a commentator on the mainstream right wing, but one happy to sink the boot into my own side when indicated. I don’t think my column registers in the wide world. At least, not yet 🙂   and I don’t expect a call from a newspaper any time soon).

The simple fact is that the press must be free; and if it is unduly biased, its consumers will vote with their feet.

Let the people decide — not the government.

Look at the alternative…a Stalinist, Gestapo-type regime, where “control” is enforced by a central and centralist government agency charged with the “elimination” of bias.

I’m sorry, that’s not a power I want in the hands of any body of politicians, which is what a government is.

Even if that body of politicians were from the Liberal Party.

The press must be free; by all means legislate or regulate things like taste, decency, defamatory content and so forth if you will.

Even on things like taste and decency, I think the market is a better regulator — for example, 5% of the population buy universally-available magazines with naked or semi-naked pictures in them; the other 95% don’t even go there. Is that market regulation or what?

No no no, this mooted media inquiry is dangerous stuff. You can’t confuse the freedom of the media with self-interest in a democratic society.

You can seek to influence the media; you can legitimately manipulate the media through skill and endeavour; and for the less-scrupulous, you can try to buy the media off or otherwise illegally distort it.

But in round overall terms, if you believe in a free society, you can’t muzzle or shackle it.

And I haven’t even really gotten into this issue; so much for a short post. But as I said at the outset, I’m still a bit crook.

I’d like to know what people think.

But the one enduring freedom in a democratic society is in its media, and that cannot be curtailed without being lost.

What do you think?