Delusional free speech fundamentalists all on the same [racist] page

March 30, 2014

There are two certainties about the Weekend Australian that make a weekly reading of it a tiresome duty.

1. The newspaper propaganda sheet is tireless and relentless in pursuit of the shibboleths that occupy the increasingly erratic thoughts of Chairman Murdoch

2. The pervasive groupthink emanating from the  News Limited bunkers like the smell of a slow death, displays a remarkably consistent level of paranoia, delusion and editorial agreement among the chief journalists and writers propagandists.

Nowhere are these certainties more likely to reveal themselves than in the fevered attention the editor and his minions are throwing at the supposed attack on free speech posed by Section 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. News Limited’s considerable, yet unprofitable editorial resources are being lavished on support for George “right to be a bigot” Brandis in his campaign to make it OK to be a racist in 21st century Australia.

In The Weekend Australian 29-30 March 2014 there are no less than six pieces supporting the campaign to have the ‘Bolt’ amendment passed in Parliament.

That alone is an indictment of their bleating claims that debate is being shut down and that 18C has a chilling effect on free speech. These dribblejaws are able to prosecute their case freely and at great length with the support of an editorial and acres of newsprint.

The only issue I have is that it is not a debate as such in the pages of the Weekend Australian. It is all one way traffic, it is propaganda without answer. Perhaps it is wishful thinking to argue that a newspaper that claims to take freedom of speech and debate so seriously would allow an oppositional voice. But hey, it is the party news organ of the coalition, so I won’t be so fucking stupid. How about you?

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When a spade’s a spade, let’s not be afraid to say so

March 19, 2014
This piece was published today on New Matilda.

Andrew Bolt’s ‘hurt’ over Marcia Langton’s comments was confected to force another humiliating backdown from the ABC, at a time when it’s already under threat, writes Martin Hirst

Andrew Bolt’s crocodile tears over being called a racist fool” by Marcia Langton were calculated to stir up more anti-ABC bile among his hardcore fans.

Despite claims to the contrary, Bolt himself would not be too much bothered by Langton’s comments; he is, after all, a champion of verbal abuse, nasty insinuation and downright mistruth. That makes this week’s apology on the the ABC’s Q&A program by host Tony Jones even weirder and more inappropriate.

If there was any offence at all, surely it was delivered by Langton and not by the program itself. That the ABC would apologise on behalf of a guest’s informed personal comment is extraordinary.

Where will it end? Will Mark Colvin have to apologise every time a guest or interviewee on PM criticises News Limited or the Prime Minister? Will Fran Kelly have to apologise to The Australian for daring to continue breathing?

This week, Langton herself apologised to Bolt on-air, on a different network, but in my view it was an apology born of hectoring and badgering, a token “sorry” offered to get Bolt and his trolls off her back as much as an indication of Langton’s real regret.

Langton issued a 19-page clarification, published on the Q&A website after the episode went to air, in which she said that she had only apologised for causing offence and hurt feelings, not “for my beliefs or my intention of trying to explain my beliefs”.

“I conclude that his singling out of ‘fair skinned’ Aboriginal people goes to the issue of ‘race’ and could be construed as racist,” Langton continued.

Anyone who pays even passing attention to Bolt’s disjointed meanderings in the Herald Sun can see for themselves that he is a hardened campaigner and a warrior for all that is good and right. A few pointy words would hurt him as much as a slap with a feather.

After all, in Eatock v Bolt, the Racial Discrimination case Bolt lost in 2011, he was judged to have failed to act “reasonably and in good faith”. His infamous comments about “light-skinned” Aborigines that landed him in court in the first place “contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”, according to Justice Mordecai Bromberg

Let’s not forget he was not keen to apologise for that offence and also claimed to be the victim in that case.

If Bolt was serious about taking offence at Langton’s comments he could have made an official complaint to the ABC, which I understand he did not do. Instead he chose to make a media circus out of the issue in order to maximise the damage to the public broadcaster.

He was successful in that aim. Jones’ apology on behalf of the network was another abject pre-emptive retreat by the ABC in the face of ongoing and concerted bomb-chucking from the News Limited bunkers.

The conservative commentariat is emboldened by such moves and by the tacit support given to their feigned outrage and conveniently hurt feelings by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his senior ministers.

That the Prime Minister also considers it appropriate to comment on an ongoing legal stoush between the ABC and another News Limited hack, should signal that this government knows no bounds in its desire to nobble any independent and critical reporting of its actions.

His thinly-veiled warning that Cabinet will consider cutting the ABC’s already stretched funds even further in the May budget, because the public broadcaster has dared to defend itself in the Chris Kenny “sex with a dog” defamation suit against The Chaser, should send shivers down the spine of every comedy producer in the country.

If satire can be curtailed so easily through defamation actions, and a flagship current affairs program bullied into an unnecessary and uncalled for apology, then those of us who appreciate the ABCs independent take on the world will need to mobilise.

If we stand back and watch as the political attacks on the ABC gain in strength and frequency, we will only have ourselves to blame when the national broadcaster goes down in flames.

Right to know: the ‘nation’, the ‘people’ and the Fourth Estate

December 15, 2013

We might forgive politicians for putting the “national” interest before the “public” interest. But when the news media makes the same mistake, it is time to be worried.

The Guardian and the ABC rightly pursued the story of Australia’s spying activities on both Indonesia and Timor Leste. Not only have the revelations been embarrassing, they should also cause concern for anyone who values fairness and humanism in international relations.

It is therefore puzzling that News Corp broadsheet The Australian has so vehemently denounced the reporting of Australia’s spying activities. Why would one news outlet – one that so fiercely claims to be a champion of freedom in other realms – be so sharp in its criticism of fellow journalists who are really only doing their job?

The answer – in part – lies in unpacking the conceptualisation of the news media as the “Fourth Estate”, and also in differentiating the “national” and the “public” interest in these matters.

The media as the Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” describes the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The idea of the news media as the Fourth Estate has a chequered history. It began life as a term of abuse for the scurillous and ill-principled scribes of the press gallery at the Palace of Westminister. Conservative Anglo-Irish MP Edmund Burke coined the phrase as a way of mocking the gentlemen of the press.

However, in the intervening centuries, the Fourth Estate has come to mean taking a principled position to – as Australian Democrats senator Don Chipp would have put it – “keep the bastards honest”.

It is with this frame in mind that the news media should approach the Snowden materials and any story that arises from a careful appraisal of the revelations, allegations or speculations they contain.

National interest versus public interest

If we accept the premise of the Fourth Estate, we also have to ask ourselves if the “national” and the “public” interest are the same thing. It might be easy to think that they are, but it would be a mistake.

Both are abstractions and both are problematic. They exist as ideas, but in reality the nation and the public are not homogeneous. In a capitalist world both are divided along class lines. In this context, the national interest is about state secrecy and keeping things from us. On the other hand, the public interest is about disclosure and our right to know. As citizens we are “the people”.

The intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who gave us the conception of the Fourth Estate as a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power also provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.

This is clear from the writing of Thomas Paine and others, who pointed out and also acted upon the idea that we may have just cause to overthrow the state if it is seen to be no longer acting in our interests.

Today, governments that claim to act in the “public interest” must face daily scrutiny of their actions. They must be called to account when overstepping the bounds of what citizens will support, or when taking actions that are clearly not in our interests. We rely on journalists and the news media to do this job on our behalf.

This separation between the people and the state becomes more important when the economic interests of the powerful so frequently dominate society. In our modern world, the interest of “the nation” is no more than the collective interest of those who wield political and economic power. Today, the state is the executive branch of the ruling class.

The news media – as the tribune of “the people” – must be constantly on guard and alert to actions of the state, particularly when those actions may harm the interests of citizens.

The Snowden leaks

In the context of the Snowden revelations and, in particular, in relation to the allegations that Australian spy agencies were tapping the phones of the Indonesian president and his wife, we have to ask ourselves: Was that spying really in the interests of ordinary Australians?

We now also know that Telstra is collecting our phone metadata and that it can be accessed by government agencies without a warrant. Can we really see a benefit for ourselves in this action?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding “no”.

The Snowden materials should be published in all their embarrassing detail. Snowden is not a traitor or a “rogue”. He is a principled whistleblower whose actions have uncovered a global system of espionage and surveillance by powerful state security agencies against not only other states and agencies, but against anyone and everyone.

It is our right to be outraged at the actions of state agencies that eavesdrop on our conversations, emails and text messages without our consent. We should be more outraged that the spies and their masters then claim to be taking these actions in our name and in defence of our interests.

The actions of The Australian in denouncing the ABC and The Guardian and defending the government are therefore a complete betrayal of the Fourth Estate principles.

When a newspaper claims to speak to and for the nation – that is, to and for the people – but instead appears to speak for the government, it abandons any claim it may have had to independence of thought and action.

[This piece was first published on The Conversation on 11 December, 2013]

The Daily Telegraph has no credibility on journalism standards

December 15, 2013

It is simultaneously amusing and sickening to see News Limited newspapers attempting to lecture the ABC on standards in journalism.

Coming from the organisation that brought you the Abbott government, whether you wanted it, or not, it is a bit rich to complain of un-Australian, left-wing bias at the national broadcaster.

The chief stenographer at the Daily Telegraph is gainfully employed re-writing press releases and disguising advertising as news and the columnists are at the bar dictating their arid thoughts to the keyboard chimps.

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The ABC is right to pursue the Snowden documents; The Australian is so predictable

November 24, 2013

Oh dear, the predictability and monotony of The Australian‘s whining about the ABC was taken to new heights this week on two fronts: firstly, the revelation that the national broadcaster has to pay market rates for its premier on-air talent and, secondly, feigned moral outrage that the ABC would cover the very newsworthy disclosure that the Defence Signals Directorate wanted to listen-in on the phone calls of the Indonesian President and his wife.

Any reasonably briefed chimpanzee would be able to write the coverage of these issues for the News Limited papers. There’s a template, a formula and a draw full of boilerplate copy that oozes vitriol, arsewipe and stinking double standards.

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From hack to Hell and back again

July 7, 2012

Graham Johnson. (2012). Hack: Sex, drugs and scandal from inside the tabloid jungle. London: Simon & Schuster.

Graham Johnson was for years an important member of the Screws of the World news team. His time at the paper predated the phone-hacking scandal, but Hack clearly shows that the culture which led to the criminal behaviour was well-established on the paper.

Johnson owns up to some pretty awful scams himself, including ruining the lives of people who were only featured in the paper to further its commercial success.

At the heart of the paper’s methods was destroying the lives of people who could not fight back. As Johnson puts it, they were usually too poor and powerless to prevent the NotW from giving them a right royal fucking over.

This is a terrible tale of what can happen when a talented reporter goes off the rails. Johnson worked for the News of the World for years and his insider story reveals a rotten culture. So rotten, in fact, that the phone-hacking and police bribery that finally brought the paper undone in July 2011 seem to be the inevitable end-result of endemic corruption and a conscious disregard for morality, ethics and the law. Read the rest of this entry »

Online debate – “free speech” trollworld style

May 29, 2012

This is a classic comment, it speaks volumes about the type of free speech that’s acceptable to the cosy club.

You are entitled to free speech but you are not entitled to exercise it in someone’s privately owned forum.

It is the same logic used by the Victorian police to stop the BDS protests in Melbourne resulting in a court case that has 19 young people arraigned on ridiculous charges such as “trespass in a public place”.

It is a pity that the free speech fundamentalists like Tim Blair, Chris Berg and Andrew Bolt really don’t care about such cases.

Their silence condemns them.

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