29/08/2012 - 11:00

Controlled media a step down wrong path

29/08/2012 - 11:00


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Labor seems determined to introduce greater media regulation, but it wouldn’t last long if the coalition comes to power in 2013.

Labor seems determined to introduce greater media regulation, but it wouldn’t last long if the coalition comes to power in 2013.

JULIA Gillard would be smart to renege on plans to impose a News Media Council to direct and police Australia’s newsprint, electronic and online media sectors.

There are several reasons why this would be a wise move.

The first is that a non-Labor government will immediately scrap such a blatant anti-liberal entity to be headed by, of all things, three carefully selected academics.

Second, with the election due by November 2013, and polls not propitious for Labor, the three academics are unlikely to celebrate a first birthday office party in their new roles.

The NMC could even be scrapped before the carbon tax following a change of government, so why continue wasting money on more unneeded bureaucracies?

Third, Ms Gillard should recall that the Whitlam government’s short-lived department of the media – Labor’s first bid to ensnare the media with interference and controls – vanished straight after the coalition won government in December 1975.

Fourth, as this column revealed last week, even the leftist group GetUp is troubled by the threatened imposition of media controls.

This means Ms Gillard will be contributing to further disunity across leftist ranks.

Meanwhile, Rudd-Gillard government ‘gang of four’ member Lindsay Tanner is reported to have baulked at this idea in the updated edition of his book on the media, Sideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy.

Another call for Ms Gillard to desist from moving to police and control the media came from former High Court judge Ian Callinan.

“As somebody who has been very critical and still remains very critical of aspects of the media, I am nonetheless totally opposed to any form of regulation,” he said.

“The struggle for free speech has been long and painfully achieved and I wouldn’t want to go back on it.”

Incidentally, all named above followed Ita Buttrose, onetime Women’s Weekly editor, who has also spoken out against media controls.

Early last month, Ms Buttrose, did some straight talking when addressing the National Press Club.

“I find it disturbing that the knee-jerk reaction to events in the media should be regulation,” she said.

“I do not believe in regulation of the media by government.

“I’m really tired of people telling us how to run our business.”

Interestingly, a Labor leak suggests some within the Gillard cabinet, due to such objectors, may be getting cold feet over policing newspapers, radio, TV, and internet news/blogs.

Overall, however, there’s a concerted push within Labor’s caucus to impose media controls. Victorian Labor backbencher Steve Gibbons is particularly keen to see them instituted.

He even wants the NMC to have power to impose fines.

“When a media outlet, journalist, or red-necked shock jock deliberately broadcasts or publishes a statement that they know is factually wrong, and it is subsequently proven that they knew it was factually wrong, they ought to be subject to an appropriate penalty,” he said.

Rather than allowing the listening, viewing and reading public and newsroom superiors to decide on the quality of reporting and abilities of their journalists, Mr Gibbons wants financial penalising imposed.

Unfortunately, politicians, particularly leftist ones, are invariably extremely touchy whenever their views and policies are criticised, and this tends to give rise to a burning desire to impose controls beyond remedies being available through court action.

They should instead seek to learn from criticism, not smother it, as has occurred by the already functioning, even if mild, Australian Press Council.

What men like Mr Gibbons can’t appreciate is that they are being short-sighted in their dislike of the media, which also plays an important educational role if unhindered, and can ‘de-educate’ when hindered.

For example, a reader of this column recently emailed me a 2004 letter by the Department of Immigration’s then public affairs director, Stewart Foster, to then APC chairman Ken McKinnon.

Mr Foster stressed that it was correct to refer to anyone entering Australia by boat as ‘illegal immigrants’ not, as the APC newspeak insisted upon as ‘asylum seekers’.

“I am writing to you in regard to AOC Guideline No 262 and adjudication number 1242,” he wrote.

“Your advice to media, specifically your adjudication in relation to a complaint against the Sydney Morning Herald, on ‘the terminology that is applied, and ought to be applied, to those arriving in Australia who do not have normal immigrant credentials’ does not reflect reality. 

“The sensitivity in some quarters to the use of the words ‘illegal’ or ‘unlawful’ or ‘unauthorised’ to describe asylum seekers arriving without Australia’s permission seems to have at its root vigorous attempts by some in the community to mislead the public into believing a myth that all unauthorised arrivals are asylum seekers and that all asylum seekers have a right to enter a country of choice without authority and therefore ‘can never be illegal’. 

“This is just not true. 

“The reality is clear in international law and has been made crystal clear by the High Court of Australia.” 

The facts are: 

Neither asylum seekers, nor refugees have a right to enter, without authority, a country which is not their country of nationality. 

The use of the word ‘illegal’ or ‘unlawful’ to describe asylum seekers entering a country without authority is standard international practice, not least by signatory states to the Refugees Convention. This is because the Refugees Convention (Article 31) explicitly refers to the “illegal entry or presence” of refugees who arrive in the territory of a country “without authorisation”.

“Accordingly, describing a person as an illegal, unauthorised or unlawful arrival or their presence as illegal, unlawful or unauthorised is doing no more than using the correct objective descriptions.”

Ask yourself, when did you last read or hear the words ‘illegal immigrants’ to describe the tens of thousands of foreigners who’ve unilaterally reached Australia by boat since the 1970s, at such great cost to taxpayers.

Rarely, I’d say, since 2004, when the APC made its politically correct, but erroneous 1242 adjudication, with our media obediently complying.

In other words, even with just the APC, Australians have been dumbed down, and inevitably most of our politicians also, as they continue to bungle this homeland security issue.

Since power-oriented politicians aren’t noted for avid reading of learned books, they rely heavily on the media for information.

Wouldn’t Ms Gillard therefore be smarter not to impose a NMC that will undoubtedly be controlled by politically correct personnel with power to insist on usage of terminology that camouflages truth? 

What chance, therefore, have we of remedying future costly Canberra policy blunders if we’re forbidden to even correctly describe them?

That’s really scary, really terrifying; that’s Newspeak, precisely what George Orwell warned humanity against.


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