Politicising human rights – what a terrible thing to do

June 9, 2015

So, finally, in 2015 Australia the debate about human rights has become politicised.

 

It’s about time really, human rights should be a very political question. You know, discussing the politics of who does and who does not support universal human rights should be regular dinner time conversation in most normal families, or pub chatter for the more inebriated among us.

In any civilised country, one that prides itself on taking human rights seriously, the application or removal of those rights should be a matter of political discourse and close attention. Which, sadly, leads me to surmise that Australia today is losing some of its civility.

Our ability to have a sensible and sensitive conversation about the importance of human rights and to debate the failures (or the rare successes) of our government (of any stripe) in promoting human rights seems to be diminishing.

Instead the media thugs and government bullies are out to silence one of the last bastions of criticism of Australia’s uncivil and inhumane refugee policies and to shut down debate about the steady erosion of our rights through the over-reach of surveillance and through the fear-mongering around terrorism.

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Wake up Charlies: Why these world leaders are a threat to you

January 12, 2015

The killing of 12 journalists from French magazine Charlie Hebdo was a horrible murder carried out by crazed ideologues. I condemn it unconditionally…But…expressing solidarity with mass murderers and the enemies of freedom of speech is a backward step.

Read this statement from Paris-based socialist John Mullen on why the better sections of the French left marched separately and at a distance from the world leaders.

This letter from another French leftist also sets out some very cogent and nuanced arguments that non-French people should probably read. It outlines the difficulties of fighting fundamentalism and fascism at the same time. But it is the necessary form that solidarity must take — not the perverted version of marching with ghouls.

This is the difficult argument I am having with my French friends: we are all aware of the fact that the attack on Charlie Hebdo will be exploited by the Far right, and that our government will use it as an opportunity to create a false unanimity within a deeply divided society. We have already heard the prime minister Manuel Valls announce that France was “at war with Terror” – and it horrifies me to recognize the words used by George W. Bush. We are all trying to find the narrow path – defending the Republic against the twin threats of fundamentalism and fascism (and fundamentalism is a form of fascism). But I still believe that the best way to do this is to fight for our Republican ideals. Equality is meaningless in times of austerity. Liberty is but hypocrisy when elements of the French population are being routinely discriminated. But fraternity is lost when religion trumps politics as the structuring principle of a society. Charlie Hebdo promoted equality, liberty and fraternity – they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Solidarity is a fine and welcome human emotion. It shows that we are not all Ayn Randian sociopaths who will always place our individual comfort and wealth above the problems of others.

Solidarity is an expression of hope that the world can be a better place and it is a recognition that by coming together in collective action we can and we will change the world.

While the murder of journalists in cold blood by crazed Islamic terrorists can never be condoned and is rightly condemned by anyone of conscience; we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into displays of solidarity unthinkingly and based only on a gut reaction to horror.

Think before you walk, zombie-like in the footsteps of the damned.

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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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Media Inquiry Chump Bait: Down the memory hole again

July 26, 2012

I have started piecing together a forensic tale of misadventure. It seems that there are memory holes – hard to detect and easy to fall into – and the news media has forgotten how dangerous they can be.

In the last couple of weeks the memory hole has appeared in editorials published in The Australian and also in the news and op-ed pages.

What is going down the gurgler is the real story of the Independent Media Inquiry.

We are forgetting — or perhaps more correctly being encouraged to forget — what was actually said and actually recommended by the retired judge Ray Finkelstein and what (f anything) from his Independent Media Inquiry was actually taken forward and actually recommended by Gareth Boreham’s Convergence Review.

It seems that we are being told to forget that the Convergence Review even happened and that it had precedence in terms of suggesting (I can’t put it in a milder form) reform of the media regulation system.

We are being force fed the chump bait on this one.

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Dear Media CEOs: stop meddling in our democracy

July 5, 2012

Dear media CEOs,

Thanks for your recent letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard outlining concerns some of you have about regulation of the news media industry.

First a question regarding your views of a proposed “public interest test”: What are you afraid of?

Your letter suggests that any public interest requirement would be a “massive” increase in regulation. But your evidence for this is very slight and even misleading.

For example, you mention the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) rules on media ownership, but these do not apply to the print media. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) powers and the Trade Practices Act are in place to protect the interests of news consumers, but they are not a protection of our rights as citizens.

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Up in smokes: Free speech fundamentalist shows true colours and logical confusion

November 26, 2011

Ah, the logic of fundamentalism. Whatever form it takes it can brook no subtlety, no fine distinction and no possible suggestion that it is ever, ever wrong.

This applies to all fundamentalisms, not just religious or political doctrine.

And now, nowhere is this more obvious than in the tobacco products ‘plain packaging’ debate.

Brendan O’Neill, the lumbering dumbarse who was once associated with the British left magazine Living Marxism and who is now associated with the libertarian Spiked-Online and a resident grumbling wanker in the columns of The Australian has come out in support of big tobacco.

Why am I not surprised?

Because O’Neill is a  libertarian conservative who The Australian likes to pretend has got some (acceptable) left credentials. Well he bloody well has none and after today’s effort I would suggest he has zero credibility too.

In his column this weekend O’Neill has the gall (or is that stupidity) to argue that banning bright, colourful and attractive tobacco packaging is an infringement of the free speech rights of the tobacco companies.

What fucking planet are you on, mate?

To confuse the right of the citizenry to enjoy free and unrestricted rights to express political opinions – which is what free speech actually is – with the paid for, commercial process of advertising and branding for commodities is a sign of sickness or idiocy.

But, O’Neill is forced into this philosophical dead end by his own politics. You see, the point he’s actually making is that the so-called ‘free speech’ argument here is just another mantra-humming log to bang over the heads of ‘the government’.

This is more than a trademark issue; it’s a free-speech issue. What is happening here is that companies are being denied the right to publish perfectly reasonable and inoffensive material – the names of their products – and at the same time they’re being forced to publish government propaganda about smoking.

O’Neill continues in this vein for several pars, including:

For years, it was considered paramount in a civilised society that people should be free to publish what they like, and that no one should be forced to parrot the government line, much less publish grotesque images handpicked by the authorities.

[Plain packaging is an infringement of free speech]

So, let’s see…the rights of multinational corporations – the ones who are poisoning us and lying about it – need to be defended because governments are trying to censor their right to advertise their deadly products in order to promote sales and attract new customers.

You remember big tobacco don’t you.

These are the same guys who stood up in front of a US congressional hearing in 1994 and, on oath, claimed that nicotine is not addictive.

Further, Australia, in introducing plain packaging is doing no more than following the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on how to reduce the harm of tobacco products.

Seriously Brendan, put down that thumping great tub and STFU while the facts are explained to you in small words and bright pictures.

Tobacco’s Toll in Health and Lives

  • Tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st century.
  • Tobacco kills more than 5 million people a year and accounts for one in 10 deaths among adults.
  • If current trends persist, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide annually by the year 2030, with 80 percent of these deaths in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Almost a billion men in the world – including half of men in low- and middle-income countries – and 250 million women smoke. If no action is taken, 650 million smokers alive today will eventually die from tobacco-related diseases.
  • Tobacco kills prematurely. On average, smokers lose 15 years of life, and up to half of all smokers will die of tobacco-related causes.
  • Every day, 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco. If current trends continue, 250 million children and young people alive today will die from tobacco-related diseases.
  • Secondhand smoke kills more than 600,000 people worldwide each year, including 165,000 children.

Tobacco’s Economic Toll

  • Tobacco use costs the world an estimated $500 billion each year in health care expenditures, productivity losses, fire damage and other costs.
  • Health care costs associated with tobacco related illnesses are extremely high. In the United States, annual tobacco-related health care costs amount to 96 billion USD ; in Germany, 7 billion USD; in Australia, 1 billion USD.
  • Tobacco-related illnesses and premature mortality impose high productivity costs to the economy because of sick workers and those who die prematurely during their working years. Lost economic opportunities in highly-populated developing countries will be particularly severe as tobacco use is high and growing in those areas.
  • Countries that are net importers of tobacco leaf and tobacco products lose millions of dollars a year in foreign exchanges.
  • Fire damage and the related costs are significant. In 2000, about 300,000 or 10 percent of all fire deaths worldwide were caused by smoking and the estimated total cost of fires caused by smoking was 27 billion USD.
  • Tobacco production and use damage the environment and divert agricultural land that could be used to grow food.

[Tobaccofreekids.org]

Brendan, if you want to smoke (do you smoke Brendan?) go ahead. If you don’t smoke you should start now, because otherwise you’re just another stinking free speech hypocrite libertarian nut graf.

The tobacco giants have a long history of infringing the rights of people to use their free speech make claims and present solid evidence that smoking is actually bad for humans; not just those who smoke but anyone who is exposed to second-hand tobacco fumes for any length of time.

By enforcing plain packaging laws governments are actually acting in the public interest – promoting public health and legally attempting to reduce the social harm and the economic cost of smoking.

It is estimated that the negative impact of smoking on the Australian economy is in the order of $1 billion a year. That equates to a lot of very expensive free speech.

Brendan O’Neill is wrong, this is not a ‘censorship’ issue, this is not about an infringement of rights, it is a public health issue.

The tobacco companies have billions of dollars at their disposal to fight the government’s legislation and they have already signaled that they intend to use every legal trick at their disposal to prevent the plain packaging rules being enforced.

Why? Because they know that more and more people are waking up  the fact that smoking is a stupid thing to do to yourself and your friends. As this trend continues the tobacco companies will start to lose money.

They are desperate to hang on to the profits they have enjoyed for too long.

O’Neill shows his true colours, like most libertarians, he cloaks his pro-big-business views in a veil of outrage and fuming free speech rhetoric. But at the end of the day the smug prick doesn’t give a shit about anyone except his own smug self.

[Disclaimer: I am a smoker. I have not had a cigarette for about two months. I am hoping that I will never smoke again. I love Benson & Hedges and if I was determined to smoke plain packaging wouldn’t stop me.]


Who’s got a short memory? Like limitednews, I forget

November 18, 2011

I’ve finally been named in a newspaper editorial. I think this is a first for me; others may remember some obscure late 1970s rant against rioting students that noted my presence at an occupation somewhere or other.

A privilege or a punch?

On Friday I was named in infamous company by The Australian in yet another editorial lambasting all and sundry who think an inquiry into the Australian news media has got any merit at all.

The Communications Minister and Greens leader apparently have short memories, as do academics Robert Manne, Martin Hirst and Margaret Simons, who have also complained about what they perceive to be “campaigns” or “vendettas” in News Limited papers. Dr Hirst said he was “blown away” by the papers’ anti-government bias.

Yes, I did say that and the context (missing from limitednews coverage) is explained here.

The fact of our short memories is then ‘proven’ in the editorial by reference to moments when News Limited papers have attacked political parties other than the ALP.

And, no Virginia, kicking Bob Brown on an hourly basis does not count. The Australian means serious criticism of serious parties.

Several incidents from the Howard years are mentioned; all of which do meet the criteria for giving government the rough end of the media pineapple.

The inquiry has heard nothing, for instance, about the blowtorch this newspaper applied to the Howard government for buying votes with middle-class welfare, the Australian Wheat Board scandal, during which we exposed kickback payments to Saddam Hussein’s regime, and our expose of the “children overboard affair”, in which senior Liberals, including John Howard, wrongly claimed that asylum-seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

I do actually remember these incidents as being significant at the time and if they were so germaine to the media inquiry, then surely John Hartigan and other News Limited folk could bring them up again and again and discuss their relevance.

Rattling off a list like this and suggesting that no-one but News Limited remembers them misses the point. It’s not about individual campaigns or moments in time, it’s about an attitude over time.

I remember too, but have not found it on a Google search, a recent comment from John Howard from his biography, Lazarus Rising, about being grateful for the support he got from News Limited papers during his time as Prime Minister.

[If anyone can find this quote, or definitively show me it wasn’t made, I will be grateful]

I have read the News Limited submission and apart from the opening gambit – there is no problem with News Limited titles – the issue of an even-handed approach is not discussed. The only mention of political coverage is to point out that in last year’s election some News Limited titles backed Gillard and some backed Abbott. If an election was held tomorrow, I’m sure that would not be the case.

In any case, I remember it more like this:

DURING John Howard’s lengthy prime ministership, his conservative Praetorian Guard in the media coined a pejorative term for critics of his government. They were branded ”Howard haters”. The ”Howard haters”, the argument went, occupied the commanding heights of Australia’s cultural institutions (especially the universities), and the Coalition, notwithstanding many other achievements in office, had been unable to dislodge this rag-tag band of liberal-left windbags.

[Politics of hate takes aim at PM]

I also remember, as do many others, News Limited unflinching support for Howard during the second Gulf war against Saddam Hussein, even after the point at which everyone stopped believing in WMD.

Finally, I would just point out to the good folk at News Limited that I am still waiting for my right of reply to the untrue allegations made about me in The Australian, The Herald-Sun and The Daily Telegraph.

Is it the case that their editorial policy is honoured in the breach?

As reflected in 1.3 of the News Code, it is standard journalistic practice that person or persons who are “attacked” would be given the opportunity to provide their views or version of events as part of the original story. The right of reply would form part of the story.

[News Limited submission to Media Inquiry]

In fact, at limitednews and, I’m sure, at Fairfax and others, it is the editorial right that takes precedence. If your views are assessed as being unworthy, then you don’t get to express them.

It is appropriate that a newspaper has the editorial discretion to assess the strength or credit of views and decide the weight to give some views and not others.

As has often been said: freedom of the press belongs to those who own one (or more)

However, there is one point in the News Limited discussion document that I do agree with – though for reasons totally opposite to those expressed here:

Requiring journalists to adopt the MEAA code would make coming under the MEAA umbrella mandatory.

This is tantamount to compulsory unionism.

Of course the collective expression, by a union, of the universal right of its members to assembly and political speech cannot be tolerated in the free market of ideas. Speech in that environment is reserved for the bosses and their toadying representatives in mahogany row.

A closed shop and high density of union membership would put paid to newsroom shenanigans and could very well have saved The News of the World. Have you considered that?

But, before we leave, I would like you to ponder these excerpts taken from the News Limited submission to the media inquiry:

It is incorrect to refer to rights for journalists. …It is the antithesis of free speech that a person wishing to be involved in public debate through a traditional media company or other form of media has to agree to a set of standards.

…It is our strong view there is no alternative model of regulation of the standards of journalists which would guarantee the freedom of the press.

…If print and online media companies were to be subject to government oversight of whether or not their content is accurate and balanced, then equally so should Richard Flanagan or Christopher Hitchins giving a public lecture on women’s rights or climate change and so should a tax‐payer arguing against climate change policy on the ABC’s Drum blog website.

…We strongly contend that the case for continuing regulation to ensure media diversity has not been made out.

…Newspapers are not limited by scarcity or high barriers to entry.

…News Limited submits, the need for cross‐media regulation to achieve diversity no longer applies. The market has delivered diversity.

Does that puzzle and worry you? More on this and other thoughts of [ex]Chairman John later.


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