Hypocrisy and a tame media: How Tony Abbott can steal our democracy

September 29, 2014

There is something deeply and disturbingly ironic about Tony Abbott meeting Egypt’s military dictator Abdel el-Sisi and asking the blood-soaked general to release journalist Peter Greste from his seven-year gaol sentence.

Greste was convicted of spreading “false” news that harmed Egypt’s national interest in a sham trial that resembled a Monty Python script rather than the heights of judicial intelligence.

Pick the thug in this photo. Hint: he’s wearing a blue tie and looks very grim.

The meeting between Abbott and el-Sisi took place at the United Nations general assembly in New York where both men gave impassioned, but totally wrong-headed, speeches about the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Leave out the grotesque parody of their meeting and what are we left with?

Two leaders who claim that it has become necessary to reduce freedoms in order to keep their citizens free.

In Egypt, el-Sisi is terrorizing the population with arbitrary detentions, the arrest of activists and death sentences handed out 600 at a time to alleged members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherood. Journalists and TV presenters are among those persecuted and gaoled for speaking out against el-Sisi’s coup and the farcical recent elections.

In Australia, Tony Abbott leads a government that is also slowly destroying our freedoms and political democracy so hard won over generations.

In a speech to Federal Parliament attempting to justify the anti-Muslim hysteria dog-whistled into being by a spurious “threat” of terrorism, Abbott laid out his anti-democratic agenda, couched in the faux-Churchillian tones of his political hero, John Howard:

“Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others.”

Who are the “some” and who are the “others” in this Orwellian doublespeak?

Well, that is becoming clearer as the days pass and Abbott’s anti-freedom agenda becomes clearer.

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Media Inquiry? Inconvenient facts go down the memory hole (part 2)

July 28, 2012

Do you remember the Independent Media Inquiry?

You might vaguely recall the Finkelstein inquiry…yes, rings a faint bell?

It’s OK, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d forgotten most of the details.

What do you remember?

Oh yes. Finkelstein, isn’t he the guy who wants to throw the champions of the fourth estate in jail for telling the truth about the nasty and unloved Ju-Liar government?

That’s right, that’s exactly right. Here’s a free online subscription to the Heart of the Nation.

According to many ‘exclusive’ stories in The Australian newspaper, the sole aim of the Independent Media Inquiry was to impose heavy sanctions on the news media because the Gillard government doesn’t handle criticism very well.

Take this story from media commentator Mark Day on 26 April 2012. It is so important it got top of page 1 treatment;

A new regulatory body, funded by government and with powers to impose fines and sanctions on news outlets is a key proposal of the long-awaited Convergence Review of the emedia sector.

Unfortunately, this story was wrong, wrong wrong.

The Convergence Review rejected any idea that there should be any such government-funded organisation with anything like the powers suggested in this breathless lead par.

However, since this story was published it has become standard operating procedure to continue the lie.

It is only possible to conclude one of four things:

a) the budget is so tight at News Limited that as many words as possible have to be recycled on a daily basis which means that key phrases are used over and over again to save money

b) the koolaid in the LimitedNews bunkers is real tasty and no one’s yet cottoned on that it is the source of the medicine that results in obligatory groupthink

c) there is a deliberate mis-information campaign going on designed to fool Australians into demanding Stephen Conroy’s head on a platter.

d) we are being fed a bowl of chump bait with fear-causing additives so we don’t see what’s really going on.

It’s probably a combination of all four.

If we’re stirred up about bloody attacks on ‘our’ freedom of speech and we can be made to think that only The Australian and the Institute of Public Affairs stands between us and a Stalino-Fascist dictatorship of ‘befuddled’ Greens from the ‘tofu belt’ aided and abetted by the ‘soft-Left media’ then maybe we’ll be goaded into action.

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up even if you called yourself Chris Mitchell and spent your days dreaming of a world in which you could wield the absolute power that corrupts absolutely.

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An acceptable Press Council: We decide, you shut the f#ck up

July 11, 2012

The Australian Press Council has just announced five appointments to an advisory board that will help it review the APC standards and bring them up to speed with the digital reality of news publishing today.

Normally you might think this was good news, but not, it seems if you work for Chris Mitchell over at LimitedNews.

The panellists are all eminent in their respective fields, not folk I’d have round for a Gibson, but in their way decent, reliable and not prone to scaring the cats.

  • Hon. John Doyle AC (recently retired as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia)
  • Dr Ken Henry AC (formerly Secretary to the Australian Treasury; currently Executive Chair, ANU Institute of Public Policy)
  • Hon. Robert Hill AC (formerly Minister for Defence and Ambassador to the UN; currently Chancellor, University of Adelaide)
  • Mr Andrew Murray (formerly Australian Democrat Senator for WA; currently Chair, WA Regional Development Trust)
  • Ms Heather Ridout (formerly CEO, AiGroup; currently Board member, Reserve Bank of Australia).

Despite the credentialling and the vetting and the secret handshakes of these upstanding doyens of the establishment, The Australian‘s found sixty ways to Christmas to condemn, belittle and bemoan their appointment.

You may have trouble jumping over the firewall, though I understand their are ways around, under or through it (I pay for mine), so let me paraphrase and use a judicious amount of quotes – all of course legitimate in critical review and scholarship.

First a piece by Media diarist Nick @leysie Leys and the headline says it all in a loud, blaring voice:

Panellists have no editorial practice

A FORMER judge, a businesswoman, a former Treasury secretary and two former senators will be called on to advise the Australian Press Council on standards for journalists, despite none of them having any editorial experience.

Of the five appointments to the panel, none has any journalism experience and several have been on the receiving end of media scrutiny during their careers.

Well, there are not many people in public life who haven’t been subject to media scrutiny. But writing “on the receiving end of” makes it sound like they’ve repeatedly had some foreign object rammed up their bums — a bit like life in the Australian military it seems.

It taints them, subtle tarring and feathering – they must have done something wrong to be on the ‘receiving end’.

And of course, if you’ve ever been on the ‘receiving end’ of a late night call from a LimitedNews journalist with no agenda except to skewer the living beejesus out of you, then you would know how how it feels.

In fact, it could be argued that despite their lack of time in a functional newsroom (like many current LimitedNews hacks), their public lives and interactions with the media might make the famous five ideal and independent consultants for the important project of updating the Press Council’s standards, assessing their relevance and their relationship to the public interest.

In fact, nothing really remarkable as a media release from the Press Council points out:

Panel members’ advice will be provided on an informal basis.

The National Advisory Panel will be complemented by strengthening the Council’s other consultative processes. These include individual meetings with editors, regular Round Tables around Australia with media representatives and community leaders, and analysis of views expressed in the broader community. A number of senior journalists are also being invited to be general consultants to the Standards Project on an ongoing basis.

APC Update 9 July 2012

What sort of signal is that?

So you see, there will be input into the process from plenty of people with newsroom experience, no doubt some of them might even work for LimitedNews.

However, this reasonably balanced and low-key approach didn’t stop the increasingly erratic and unreadable Chris Merritt* from weighing in with another opinion piece.

There’s one thing you can say in favour of the senior headline writers at The Australian, they don’t fuck about; you’re never left guessing what the paper thinks:

They should stand aside if they want to help

Right, that’s clear then. So what did the great legal mind of one C Merritt make of this.

THE only way of making sense of the latest move by Julian Disney’s Press Council is to assume that its primary goal is political.

It looks like another move to distance his organisation from the media so it can be vested with coercive power.

Right now, the federal government is trying to decide whether the Press Council or some other body should be given statutory power over the media.

If the Press Council sees itself in that role, there is much to be gained by injecting more distance between the press and itself.

This helps explain why none of the five people who will have a role in reviewing the standards enforced by the council could be described as media authorities.

What?

“The only way of making sense…is to assume”

“It looks like…coercive powers”

Someone’s overdosing on the office kool aid.

What sort of signal does this send? If the rewritten standards bear the imprint of the panel’s advice, the enforcement of those standards could never be described as self-regulation.

The panel’s members must all be assumed to be people of good will. But if they really want to help, they should stand aside.

Their involvement, while well-intended, is presumptuous and counterproductive.

Recruiting such a panel for high-level policy advice on press standards makes as much sense as recruiting former newspaper editors to provide policy advice to federal Treasury.

What sort of signal does this send?

Well, let’s just assume that it’s loud and clear and follows the pattern established in a dozen editorials and countless op-ed pieces in The Australian over the last few months.

The signal is not too subtle and the signalers are wearing big dirty boots.

Just in case you can’t read the tea leaves, just assume I’m right. It goes like this:

Any attempt to impose any form of control, regulation, licencing, or pressure to behave in a nicer way to anyone who is in the way must be resisted at all costs and without fear or favour.

Opinion to the contrary must be stamped out, ignored, ridiculed and stamped out again.

We will not tolerate any opposition

Whatever you say will be taken down and used against you

Signals from the LimitedNews bunker are that not one foot-soldier will be spared in the war on media regulation.

It seems that Chris Merritt surrendered his sanity to the cause long ago.

There are plenty of news hacks who’s daily bread is predicated on giving advice to the federal Treasury on carbon pricing, which they consistently describe as a ‘tax’, on wages, which are consistently too high and on a myriad of other issues on which economics writers and newspaper editors feel qualified to have opinions.

So, quick corolary, why should lack of newsroom experience deny someone a say in the future shape of Press Council standards. Some might say it would actually be a good thing.

But will it satisfy Rupert?

As the leading figure in the Australian news media – the one with the most to lose – perhaps he should choose who gets to advise the news watchdog.

Seems only fair, so let’s help him decide.

Post your entries as a comment or email
ethicalmartiniATgmail.com

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Another test of US shield laws for non-MSM reporters

April 28, 2010

A second case that will test shield laws for American reporters is under way in California. The court action follows a police raid on the home of Gizmodo staffer Jason Chen.

Police allege Chen had stolen property – a prototype of the next Apple iPhone – and that he had committed a felony by having it in his possession.

Gizmodo, published by the Gawker group, is challenging the warrant on the grounds that Chen is a journalist and his home is his newsroom.

Under California law, a warrant cannot be used to seize the work items of a reporter. Read the rest of this entry »


Whale-watching update: No “shit storm” on horizon

January 6, 2010

Here’s a round-up of some blogosphere commentary on the Whaleoil (Cameron Slater) story.

[If you need to backfill on this, a qick review of this NZ Herald story will get you up to speed.]

Whaleoil has a true friend in Cactus Kate. Not only is she prepared to stick up for him, even wondering if there is either a) some kind of set-up involved with Slater being in court on the same day as a “kiddy fiddler” (her words), or b) if the police are reluctantly pursuing the blogger because of an agenda being run from higher up.

I am wondering whether the Police actually want to charge Whaleoil with this crime? There are several factors that Whaleoil will use in his defence that make me think that their heart is not really in it and other external forces are at play.

This is interesting if a little ingenious. Rightwing bloggers were forever accusing the Labor government of politicising legal proceedings; but really coincidence or conspiracy? It seems an easy choice. But one thing about Ms Cactus,  she’s also prepared to dish some tough love:

As I advise anyone who comes to Whaleoil’s attention, the best course of action is to be polite and either ignore what he has written or write to him in a manner which puts your side of the story and he will more often than not be reasonable enough to publish that. He has a short span of attention thanks to his depression and soon moves to a new target.

The worst course of action is to give Whaleoil opposition. He is mental. I mean this in a loving caring way to his friends, but to his foe he shows as much hatred as he does love for his friends. Whaleoil loves opposition, he loves conflict and more importantly will never back down.

This could be coded warning for people not to get in Whaleoil’s face about this, we’ll see. However, some are pointedly ignoring this advice and are getting stuck into Whaleoil. He has supporters and detractors in equal measure it would seem.

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Whale(b)oil Slater hooked?

January 5, 2010

I have no beef with Whaleoil, but I am interested in his ongoing court case.

Blogger Cameron Slater (aka Whaleoil) has got himself into a bit of legal trouble and inadvertently made himself bottomfeeder food for the “repeaters” of the “Lame Stream” media that he so detests.

Even so, one gets the impression that Whaleoil is actually enjoying his 15 minutes of notoriety.

My impres­sion of the court sys­tem for peo­ple on first appear­ance is that it was about as organ­ised as a free for all piss up at a South Auck­land pub on Fri­day night.

Then I went down stairs and was met by about 30 repeaters and cam­era guys and photographers.

Here is the results of all that.

NZ Her­ald

New­stalkZB

TV3

TVNZ

Stuff (Video at stuff)

Eat that Far­rar, Every news chan­nel is cov­ered includ­ing NZPA which I don’t have access to. I don’t think this is going the way it was sup­posed to.

His brief appearance on a handful of charges in Auckland today (Tuesday 5 Jan) was ironically in courtroom adjacent to that in which yet another entertainer (loosely-defined) was remanded on child sex charges.

Although I can’t help won­der­ing if it is pure coin­ci­dence that I appeared the very same day as the “Come­dian” also appeared. Part of me thinks that was a stitch up.  [Court @ gotcha...]

So far Mr Slater has repeatedly said he will defend the charges that he breached a number of suppression orders and published information that might tend to identify a person with name suppression. The charges refer to two cases: one that was recently before the courts involving an “entertainer” who successfully argued for name suppression on the grounds that his earning capacity might be affected adversely if he was named. The second case is current and involves a former New Zealand Olympian who is facing serious charges of assault and sexual assault.

In both cases Whaleoil identified the men who have name suppression using a series of pictorial images to stand in for their names. In the case of the entertainer (who copped a guilty plea and got off with a warning) even PM John Key claims to know the name; so there seems little point in continuing the charade that the name’s suppressed. However, it is permanently suppressed, which is lucky for the guy, but not so lucky for his victim.

In the second case, as I understand it, the pictogram was a little harder to decipher. However, on the face of it, an offence may have occurred. If you look at the relevant sections of the law, it seems fairly clear cut.

As I read it, in cases involving a victim of sexual assault, publication of details that might identify the person – even the name of the accused – can be suppressed. In the entertainer case this was not the reason, but in the ongoing case of the Olympian it appears to be the reason for suppression.

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Freedom for those who defend it: Journalists – a film from Belarus

May 14, 2009

The docmentary Journalists, by Belarusian film director Aleh Dashkevich, is screening twice on the programme of the Auckland Human Rights Film Festival.

Journalists tells about how freedom of expression was destroyed in Belarus over the 15 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule. 20081203_journalistLukashenka came to power in the 1994 election promising to allow freedom of the press. Unfortunately, like most politicians, he was lying at the time.

In most western nations journalists can operate within reasonable boundaries of freedom. It’s rare for a TV camerawo/man to be kidnapped and murdered; journalists don’t often get beaten up, arrested or threatened when covering protests. Not so in Belarus – nor, incidently, in many parts of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.

Belarus 1229920068Late last year Lukashenka’s regime signed into law further restrictions on media freedom. Among other provisions, the law equates the Internet with regular media, making sites subject to the same restrictions; bans local media from accepting foreign donations; allows local and state authorities to shutter independent publications for minor violations; and requires accreditation for all foreign journalists working in the country. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Journalists is showing on Friday (15 May) and Tuesday (19 May) at 6pm at the Rialto cinema in Newmarket. I will be making a few brief comments after the screening and leading a question and answer session. After that I’ll be available for a quite drink if you’re interested.

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