The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) correspondent, Peter Lloyd, is now facing three additional and, as yet, unspecified charges following a brief court appearance in Singapore today [Friday 25 July]
Peter was arrested last week and charged with trafficking about a gram of methamphetamine (ice). According to media reports he looks worried, gaunt and like a “broken man”.
And who wouldn’t. Facing 20 years in a Singapore jail and up to 15 lashes with a heavy rattan cane, would make even the staunchest crack addict blanche.
What troubles me more though, is the way this case is being used to attack the ABC and dog whistle Australian racism.
The latest news on Lloyd’s arrest and court appearances this week is available from The Sydney Morning Herald and the Herald-Sun.
Peter has been receiving consular assistance since his arrest and at least two high-powered ABC executives have been by his side over the past week. The fact that the ABC is supporting one of their star reporters is causing something of a backlash among some sections of the Australian public.
When conservative columnist Tim Blair commented that the ABC had a right to defend Lloyd and rush assistance to him in Singapore, it provoked a huge online response.
However, before you all rush to congratulate Tim Blair for his forthright defence of a fellow hack, consider the real point of his piece:
As for taxpayers assisting Lloyd, this is the inevitable result of having a public broadcasting service in the first place.
I would privatise the whole ABC in an instant if I had the chance, but while it’s here it is obliged to behave like any other major Australian corporation – in this case, by supplying legal assistance to an employee facing serious charges overseas.
Reporters from all the major newspapers and commercial television networks could reasonably expect similar help.
The difference is that the ABC is publicly funded, so we’re stuck with whatever legal bills it runs up in Lloyd’s defence. Unfair, but unavoidable.
Besides which, it’s good to see the ABC demonstrating a commitment to Western values for once.
They’re using some corporate muscle. They’re seeking every available advantage. Good for them. I hope Peter Lloyd beats his charges and walks free.
Spot the problem?
Well actually there are two problems from my perspective.
The first is Blair’s suggestion that the ABC should be privatised. This is a common refrain from the ugly right’s lead dribblejaws (Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair and so on) It’s particularly prominent in the ranting of Rupert Murdoch’s minions at News Corporation. The mantra in that mahogany row is “Never let a chance go by” when it comes to bashing Australia’s public broadcaster.
In the context quoted above the call for privatisation doesn’t make sense. How would that stop the ABC acting like any other corporate. It’s not an issue in this situation and appears a gratuitous aside.
The second is the dog-whistle chant about Western values. Somehow us “whities” have to defend ourselves and our institutions from the sub-optimal (subtext sub-human) values of the Singaporeans (subtext “Asians”).
This is racism, pure and simple, and folks like Tim Blair can’t help themselves. Its a cultural overhang from his position on terrorism and conflict in the Middle East. The semiotic implication of Blair’s comments about the uncivilised process of whacking someone with a wet cane as thick as your index finger, are a simulacrum of his stance on the “war on terror”.
I don’t suppport caning drug dealers, or anyone else. I take the same view or corporal punishment as I do about stoning adulterers. Both are sick outcrops of a sick culture.
In Blair’s view though, it would appear that caning a criminal is as barbaric as a roadside bomb.Both constitute an attack on “our” liberties and must be stoutly resisted.
This is a step too far. There is no moral equivalence. Only in the addled brain of a pundit high on the smell of his own hubris would leap to such a conclusion.
Such is the role of the cultural warrior. Blair and his fellow travellers like to think they are the frontline of all things decent and somehow (in the post-colonial context of Singapore) “British”.
No doubt Mr Blair will enjoy a Singapore Sling in the long bar at Raffles the next time he’s in town. But as for wandering the streets to see how real Singaporeans live, or noticing the layer of indentured labour that underpins the lifestyles of Singapore’s corrupt ruling elite, Mr Blair can probably not be bothered. It’s one thing to have the coolies of Raffles’ famous bars bring you a sugary, but potent quencher; it’s another entirely to be out among them on the crowded streets of the metropolis.
That is why, in my first post on this topic I linked the fate of Peter Lloyd to the case of the Singaporean blogger, Gopalan Nair.
The point is that for both men, whatever their supposed crimes, the harsh reality of “justice” in Singapore is very real, and in the case of Peter, potentially very traumatic and painful.
It’s not, as Blair argues, about defending Western values. It’s about human rights, something Tim Blair wouldn’t bother with.