My submission last year to the Australian Independent Media Inquiry conducted by Ray Finkelstein made 40 points in total.
Perhaps I should have made use of bold text to highlight key phrases in my twelfth point (emphasis added):
12. The public myth is of a fiercely competitive media environment, in which journalists vie to rush out the truth to the public. This process doubtless operates to some extent.
Of equal if not greater importance…. is the tendency of journalists – across institutions and companies and even including paid free-lancers – to form consensus about news value, both positive and negative. Competition drives the news process – but collegiate conformity sets its boundaries… The mass media, en bloc, has utterly failed to provide fair and honest coverage of credible, evidence-based perspectives on very important issues – to an extent that merits the term censorship.
My submission to the inquiry and my attempt to make this point in particular – at least so far – have been about as effective as Cassandra’s efforts during the Siege of Troy.
In all the “debate” that’s erupted since Finkelstein’s report was published on February 28th, no-one wants to say anything about No 12!
Various positions have been staked out in the debate that has been in progress.
Greens Leader Bob Brown got on the front foot early, lauding the Finkelstein report and its main proposal – the establishment of a government-funded News Media Council that would administer a complaints process against ALL Australian media, including relatively low-traffic websites (even websites hosted overseas judging by a heavy hint to that effect in the report!)
By contrast, the right wing in Australia, in general, has been dismissive of Finkelstein’s commenations. This is a case in which I agree with much of what they’re saying.
On Lateline last week, Opposition Communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull spoke eloquently against the NMC proposal and made it clear the Liberal-National Coalition will not support it. The Coalition can certainly pick up votes on this, especially if the Gillard Government is foolish enough to press ahead and try to legislate Finkelstein’s NMC. For me, Turnbull’s most quotable quote was “we need more freedom, more diversity in news media and we’re not going to get that from this sort of heavy-handed media inquiry.” Well said Mr Turnbull!
As far as I’m aware, Gillard’s Labor Government itself has kept its head down. That’s smart politics. For once it isn’t the widely-distrusted Minister for Communications Senator Conroy who’s copping flac from all sides. He must be enjoying the spectacle of verbal mud pies soaring safely over his head from either side.
As well as right wing commentators such as Gerard Henderson and the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), the privately-owned mainstream media itself has been hostile. They don’t like the idea of a government-sponsored News Media Council. They’d rather keep the Press Council, more or less in its present form. Julian Disney, Chair of the current Press Council (which is funded by the corporate media), would also like to keep it – but he wants a bigger budget and more extensive powers. Some informed commentators suggest that’s where the ball may eventually land.
Journalism academics have bought into the debate with enthusiasm, including Julie Possetti, Wendy Bacon, Margaret Simons, Mark Pearson and Jason Wilson. Their opinions have been mixed – ranging from broadly supportive to highly critical. Some of them have been stung by taunts from practising “journalists” in the mass media, especially in News Corp. Occasionally the brawling has got rather tawdry.
All – or almost all – of this brouhaha has focused on the proposed News Media Council and the issue of whether a complaints process should be set-up, who should run it, how it should run and so forth.
Yet those issues are not – at least from my perspective – the biggest problem with our media. I’ll say again what I think IS the biggest problem. This time I’ll use a “one-liner” in larger type:
It’s what’s MISSING in the media that’s most in need of remedy!
The issue of “what’s missing” comes down to some deeply ingrained yet unspoken biases – and a most unsavoury tendency for ALL the key players in the media circus to self-censor and blatantly fail to cover all sides of certain important “hot topics”. Any notion that the Government is likely to correct for these deep biases is of course as ludicrous as the idea that the big media groups that currently perpetuate them will tamely change their ways. It wasn’t even on the cards that Finkelstein would explore this subject and he didn’t surprise us. Government, the mass media, the media academic establishment – none of them are keen on mentioning it, to say the least.
To seriously consider Point 12 necessarily entails scrutiny of the real-life forces and powerful behind-the-scenes lobbies that control the media agenda in Australia – within both public and private media. That, apparently, is a subject so uncomfortable that none of the above want to talk about it at all.
The Australian public is poorly served by our highly centralised mass media (private and public) and by media academics and other “insider commentators” who rely on government as well as relationships with mainstream journalists. These “guilds” have THEIR pet issues – but don’t want to talk about anything that might jeopardise their reputations and privileged niches.
Only the blogosphere – the loose network of grassroots citizen-reporters and small groups of genuinely commuted activists – does that. Predictably, this new, dynamic, free, non-parasitic and currently untamed sector of the media is targeted by Finkelstein’s proposal.
In Australia as elsewhere, bogus media reporting has now underpinned more than ten years of war, vanishing civil liberties and vastly expanded budgets for the military and what I think’s best described as the “Secret State”.
The mass media’s refusal to even discuss the copious and highly credible information that cast doubt on the official narrative of the events of 9/11 is proof positive our mass media is malfunctioning in a very serious way. The Australian media’s de facto blackout on similarly well-founded doubts surrounding the official narrative of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre is another example closer to home.
I could give other examples of bias and blind spots and did so in my media inquiry submission – input to the Inquiry that received not even a listing on the Government’s Independent Media Inquiry consultation webpage let alone any indication it had been read or considered.
Unlike the folk who earn their bread and butter from media corporations or some form of government insitution, I don;t think the public is not much interested in their in-house squabbles and defences of their respective reputations and credentials.
The public is more interested in the TRUTH. Friends tell each other the truth. The mass media is not behaving like our friend.
The video below shows Dr Graeme MacQueen making a presentation at Harvard last year entitled “The Fictional Basis of the War on Terror” (I previously featured Dr MacQueen’s Challenge to the Peace Movement on this website)
The presenter is an eminent academic. His topic – The Fictional Basis of the ‘War on Terror’ – is an absolutely crucial political issue of global importance.
It’s a BLATANT scandal that this man and many like him have been almost completely excluded from Australian mass media, and that academia and parliaments have ignored the perspective he brings to bear for more than a decade. It amounts to a deliberate blind-spot that’s neither justified or justifiable. It shames all involved in the cover-up, which as time goes by amounts to almost all the media establishment in this country.
The Finkelstein report is the wrong answer to what was started out as a different question.
Egged on by the Greens, the Government established a grossly undemocratic and quite secretive process (the Finkelstein Inquiry). The initial trigger was public concern about an issue half a world away – phone-tapping by The News of The World in Britain. Yet this phenomenon has now morphed into a proposal for an intrusive new mechanism to regulate Australia’s blogosphere! Rather like punters treated to a magician’s trick, we blink and wonder. How on earth did that happen?
Personally I don’t trust politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, academics or lawyers to regulate web content and internet traffic, either singly or in combination. As professions, NONE has promoted discuss honest discussion of the crucial doubts surrounding 9/11. For me, that’s a litmus test. They all fail that test, so why should they be trusted with web regulation? It’s like encouraging proven false witnesses to do jury service.
Here are Finkelstein’s Terms of Reference:
- (a) The effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms.
- (b) The impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment.
- (c) Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to online publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints.
- (d) Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.
The third of these ToRs has not been followed at all. Instead of providing suggestions for reform of the Press Council, Finkelstein proposed the very different model of a Government-funded News Media Council – a body that would intrude into media sectors not alluded to at all in the Terms of Reference, notably the “bottom-up” blogosphere that’s independent of mainstream media.
Apologists for Finkelstein make a case that the NMC is basically a benign idea that would work out in in the end. So far, Bob Brown of the Greens seems wedded to this view; a few media academics make sympathetic mutterings and even if holding back from endorsing the NMC as proposed, they take the “something must be done” line. On the other hand, so far, most of the privately-owned mainstream media appears to favour the status quo.
For once I find myself agreeing with some of the conservative media, not because I particularly like the status quo, but because I prefer to avoid leaping from frying pan to fire. I’d like the Government and its appointees to butt out of regulating the internet. I certainly don’t want more state interference.
At present, when composing articles such as this for my blog, I take into account a few obvious legal requirements such as the laws of defamation and copyright. I do my best to comply. Why should I be regulated more? Why should any privately-run website need be regulated more? No public case has been made that this is necessary; no case has been made it’s a pressing issue. The need to regulate the independent blog sector of the media was not explicit in Finkelstein’s Terms of Reference.
Explaining why the report didn’t look at the appalling centralisation of Australia’s mass media, Wendy Bacon claims “The Inquiry was discouraged by its terms of reference, which did not mention issues of ownership, from looking at broader solutions to the structure of the media.”
Perhaps so. But Finkelstein didn’t seem bothered about wobbling way off course on the Terms of Reference in other areas, notably with his central recommendation for a new News Media Council.
It’s hard to avoid concluding blogosphere freedom is once again under attack in Australia.
This time the attack comes from Stage Left. It’s aimed at independent media producers more than consumers. Instead of an internet “filter” this is about plugging founts of creativity and independence. The NMC idea is probably defeatable and may well be defeated – but what a waste of energy for us all, yet again!
Am I the only one who smells this rat? I don’t think so. Some of the more perceptive media academics are concerned about potential impacts on the blogosphere too.
Professor Mark Pearson – a Bond University academic who is critical of the Finkelstein report – outlines what could be at stake for bloggers and the grass roots media in his recent article on The Drum: Media inquiry: be careful what you wish for (emphasis added):
I suggested in my personal submission (PDF) to the inquiry and in my appearance at its Melbourne hearings that Australia already has enough of those laws. Hundreds of them. I suggested alternative mechanisms using existing laws. I argued that we did not need more media laws and more expensive legal actions and that a government-funded statutory regulator would send the wrong message to the international community. It is the approach adopted by the world’s most repressive regimes.
Which brings us to the matter of duplication. I have seen few serious ethical breaches that could not be handled by existing laws like defamation, contempt, consumer law, confidentiality, injurious falsehood, trespass and discrimination. There are existing mechanisms to pursue them properly through established legal processes.
All of the serious examples cited at 11.11 of the report could have been addressed using other laws such as defamation, ACMA remedies or breach of confidence (or the proposed privacy tort). But the new regulator would do away with all the normal trappings of natural justice, dealing speedily with matters on the papers only without legal representation a media defendant would expect in a court of law.
Small publishers and bloggers might well be bullied into corrections or apologies because they would not have the time, energy or resources to counter a contempt charge in the courts.
University of Cenberra lecturer James Wilson argues along similar lines in Media inquiry ignores value of diversity (emphasis added):
Isn’t it possible that under these rules, small operations might just decided that it’s easier, more sensible, to not publish risky, challenging material? Or accept the decisions of the regulator even where they disagreed with them in principle, even on occasions where it transpired that they were correct in their disagreement?
This is just one example of how the proposed scheme could actually threaten the one, long-term solution we have to the problems of concentration and media power – the rise of a range of sustainable online alternatives. From a certain point of view, it begins to look like an impost on diversity and media freedom.
Once more, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown (without consulting his party as a whole again?), has adopted a position that will surely jar with many Greens supporters once they wake up to this.
The Greens won new votes at the last Federal election thanks to Communications Spokesperson Senator Ludlam’s spirited and intelligent defense of internet freedom. All that hard work and political gain has now been put at risk by a single, ill-considered announcement by leader Bob Brown. It really is time for him to pass on the ring.
The British phone-tapping scandal led to a much larger inquiry and ongoing inquiry in the UK, the so-called Leveson Inquiry. It is headed by a Jewish lawyer.
The Australian inquiry prompted by the same event has been headed by Ray Finkelstein. He’s a Jewish lawyer.
Last week Australia’s Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced an important media appointment: the new Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation will be Jim Spigelman. He’s a Jewish lawyer too.
Is there a pattern here? If we really want media diversity, isn’t the remarkable preponderance of Jewish lawyers involved in the investigation and remoulding of our media a topic worthy of mention? After all, the Jewish population in both Britain and Australia is only a tiny percentage of the total.
Such a comment no doubt disqualifies this article from re-publication by any mainstream media. Yet surely it’s a legitimate issue for public consideration? After all, “bias’ is close to the centre of this whole debate – even if it’s not the bias I’m most concerned about.
I may well cop complaints for mentioning the ethnicity (or is it religion?) of these gentlemen. But I ask anyone contemplating accusations of “hate speech” or some other such nonsense to reflect on whether there would be public debate had Muslims been appointed to all three of these crucial roles – or even had all three been practising Christians? Would the media and its conformist commentators be raising eyebrows if both media inquiries had been chaired by people of Arab origins? I think so.
Judeophilic bias, on the other hand, is a bias that’s “impolite” to discuss in the Western world. That’s been the case for so long, few if any of us can remember times when it wasn’t so. The careers of anyone in Australia’s mainstream media or in academia or government would doubtless be in jeopardy if they made such observations in their official output. Likewise – and more importantly – pervasive Zionist influence within the major media corporations and public broadcasters is considered a “no-go” topic for mainstream debate.
Fortunately, sections of the blogosphere don’t have our begging-bowl out for cosy careers, sinecures and grants. We can and do raise such issues from time to time. We may not win popularity contests or awards, but we do ventilate what must surely be discussed in a democracy worthy of the description. We expand the discourse to encompass all topics of significance – not only those that are hand-picked by conformists
Now another bunch of social engineers want to use public funds to regulate us, weave new rules around us, position themselves to be better able to harass and intimidate us. They continue to keep their Code of Silence on crucial subjects they don’t want to discuss at all – while casting a jealous eye over our little patch of free speech. They all get paid for their various roles in this blood sport of hounding competition that shames them – competition from people who are willing to speak truth to power.
Our media professionals, media academics, media lawyers etc all ride on one big, articulated gravy train. As much as anything else, their collective endeavours can fairly be regarded as self-interested collaboration in social control.
From my perspective, the gravy train riders are welcome to stick their snouts in the meagre troughs of the peoples’ independent media whenever they like. I hope they visit more often. If they do, they’ll certainly encounter plenty of offal – but occasionally they’d come across quality truffles of highly significant information that’s completely unavailable via the mainstream media.
When they start insisting we all serve bland gravy like they do, they push their luck way too far.