October 31st 2011
1/ When several NATO nations began their unprovoked military attack on Libya earlier this year, commencing an 8-month assault that reduced what was formerly Africa’s most prosperous nation (according to UNDP Human Development Index statistics) to chaos, rubble and rotting bodies, they focused on one small part of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 to justify their ‘intervention’: “..to take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack”.
In similar fashion, most of my submission is directed to one small part of the terms of reference of this inquiry, namely that part of item (d) which says: “Any related issues…in the public interest.”
2/ I do not pretend to have detailed knowledge of the workings of media regulation in Australia and my submission is about broad principles, not legal detail.
3/ I do have a lifelong interest in the media, I’ve been an avid ‘consumer’ of news and information via the media since the 1960s. I was an early adopter in using the internet to source news information. I currently use the internet as well as mass media to absorb, query, debate and output ideas on many issues I regard as important – environmental, political, historical, cultural, ethical etc.
4/ For many decades, going back to the time when newspapers, magazines, TV and radio were the major elements of the mass media, I’ve had concerns about deep in-built bias in the western mass media.
The Potential for Media Diversification
5/ In Britain of the 1830s, sharp reductions in Newspaper Stamp and Paper Duties, along with rising literacy, helped trigger a boom in newspaper production combined with an increase in diversity. Many small independent publications began serving local communities, towns and cities. Opinions and perspectives were diverse.
Yet within a century or so, the economic centrality of advertising revenue to newspaper viability led to substantial consolidation in the number of publications and the rise of a few dominant national papers.
6/ During the 20th centuries new media electronic technologies were introduced – first radio, then TV and finally the internet. Each of these media, like newspapers before them, had the potential to provide for greater diversity of viewpoint. But there have always been countervailing tendencies at play favouring consolidation as opposed to diversification.
7/ In Australia as elsewhere, successive Governments have effectively favoured some media interests over others, sometimes with the benign intent of fostering media talent, creativity and high quality output – and occasionally with less laudable motives.
The most obvious ‘favouritism’ has been in the government’s establishment and funding of the ABC – Australia’s publicly-funded broadcaster, modelled to a significant extent on Britain’s BBC.
There have been powerful reasons for funding major public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS in this country. Throughout most of the last few decades, I’ve been a strong supporter of this, seeing the output of these organisations as an important counter-balance to the partisan agendas of privately-owned corporate media. But my support has waned in recent years. I’m now deeply concerned about what I regard as quite egregious bias within this nation’s public broadcasters – so appalling they court a major loss of public support.
8/ Government has also played a significant role, over the years, in favouring and nurturing certain private media corporations – especially Newscorp and the three main TV networks. The decision to allocate digital bandwidth to these TV companies without offering this bandwidth out to public tender is a stark example of this favouritism.
9/ The case of Newscorp, which has some 70% share of the Australian daily newspaper market as well as extensive online, cable & satellite TV interests in Australia, is in a class of its own.
It was a grotesque mistake and failure, on the part of those earlier governments responsible, to allow one media corporation so much dominance in the newspaper market. I know of no other major western democracy where a single company exercises such disproportionate influence. It is questionable whether real democracy is possible in a nation where one media owner can, at will, cause such havoc for any politician who stands against them or the policies they favour most crucially. Any democracy that took itself seriously would break-up such a media Empire so no single private corproate interest had anything resembling Newscorp’s current dominance.
10/ I live in Far North Queensland. In this region, Newscorp dominance of the print media is almost absolute. Newscorp produces almost my entire range of local, regional, adjacent and state newspapers.. a picture completed by The Australian, Newscorp’s national paper. This is akin to the centralisation of editorial control in the former USSR.
11/ Some years ago, during a Queensland State election, I tried to get the local ABC in Cairns to take interest in a major regional planning issue which the Premier had raised personally in a speech while visiting. As a rep of a local environment group, we had a response to the Premier’s announcement. I was told it was a good story, but the ABC would run it after the election. Pointing out it was an election story, I was then told that it wasn’t in the newspapers. “Up here”, I was informed “news needs to be in the newspapers…”
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, I think, 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 example I cited above was one small case from my own region. There are far more important examples where 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.
13/ Even if the NBN is not completed as per the current government’s intentions, in coming years high-speed broadband will become ubiquitous. If NBN standards are met soon, new media players will soon have the potential to bring a renaissance of genuine diversity and creativity to the Australian media. This is very much in the public interest.
14/ Production of quality video material – once the preserve of ad agencies and film & TV studios – is being democratized. Combined with NBN-type telecommunications infrastructure, this makes it possible for small groups of collaborators – or individuals – to run their own ‘shows’, which can accessed online directly and may also be aggregated within websites or featured on ‘channels’. In a media landscape like this, the old TV networks become obsolete. There will be the opportunity for many ‘channels’ of pre-arranged programming. It will also be possible to use no ‘channels’ at all , drawing on personally specified feeds of news, topic-specific information and entertainment.
15/ It may help to give a hypothetical example. Imagine a day in the life of a Mr Gummidge, c 2030. Let’s imagine Mr Gummidge (Wurzel to his friends) is a fruit farmer. He’s studying jam-making in his spare time. He’s interested in local politics and he likes soccer.
Wurzel gets up and flicks on the screen. It brings up a simple, personalised menu. He says “soccer”: a summary of the latest results appears, supplied via his favourite sports info-service. He spends a few minutes watching the highlights of a couple of games. Mr Gummidge sips his herbal tea and moves onto business. He visits the channel maintained by fellow fruit farmers in Queensland. There are three such channels in operation at present, reflecting different interests and personal networks. He likes the channel that focuses on exotic tropical fruit. Moving seamlessly between viewing the highlights of the channel and messaging fellow participants, he learns, queries and communicates with a dozen or so industry colleagues in 40 minutes. He’s now abreast of the latest discussions in his industry. He decides to talk directly to one colleague who shows up as available. The two friends video link for a few minutes. Then Gummidge goes out to check on his lychees. He comes in for lunch. Feeling out of touch with local politics, he scans the headlines of a couple of local channels compiled by volunteer enthusiasts. He sends off a vid-comment about the Mayor. He manages to keep it polite. Next he settles down to the online jam tutorial. He bought this one from Hungary. They really know about jam there! In the evening, he decides to veg out and watch a movie. Will he see what the commercials channels are pushing right now? Nah! He’d rather watch the movie a friend told him about. Mr Gummidge checks the world news headlines on his favourite global service, flicks off the screen and heads to bed.
16/ The point about this hypothetical illustration is that in the media world of Mr Gummidge, an average kind of Ozzie 20 years in the future, major national media companies (including the ‘public broadcasters’) have little role to play. He gets news from people he most trusts, specific to each field he’s interested in. He chooses his own entertainment directly (unless he really wants to veg out!). He likes soccer – so he uses a soccer info service run by soccer enthusiasts like him. Likewise for his specific work-related interests. Channel 9? The ABC? The Australian newspaper? Who needs them?
17/ Major media interests are naturally not keen on this development. They are probably not the only vested interests to view this new opportunity with trepidation, can be expected to fight against the shift to democratisation and diversification of media – and will probably cloak their real agenda in disguise.
18/ To those in the public such as myself, deeply dissatisfied with our current mass media, democratisation and diversification of media is a very exciting prospect. The potential convergence of ‘websites’ with ‘channels’ means information power being shared more equitably. The old model of journalist and reader is utterly one-sided. In the new media era, every individual is (potentially) a sharer of information. Every small group can (potentially) run a media channel.
19/ In addition to affordable and ubiquitous hardware/technology, what are other pre-requisites for such a change? Answering this question may also reveal how vested interests are most likely to try to disrupt, slow and divert this trend.
20/ One prerequisite is net neutrality. This is essential and should be enshrined in law. All media providers should face a level playing field. In effect, they should be able to narrow cast via the internet at zero cost to themselves (as at present). There must be no preferential speeds or access.
21/ The second prerequisite is an appropriately hands-off censorship regime. The internet must be regarded more like the post or email and less like TV or radio. No-one is forced to watch anything on the internet. People choose to visit sites. They are not stuck with a choice of five channels – or even 50. They have – in effect – millions of channels. That choice will grow. Censorship along the lines of TV or radio is impossible and the effort should be abandoned. Ideally, Australia should legislate an equivalent of the US First Amendment. We need a basic guarantee of free speech, especially (but not only) on the internet.
22/ The third prerequisite is a level playing field for public funding and support. There is no need or basis for preferentially assisting existing major broadcasters. If that means the major national TV networks disappear, so be it. The market in the commercial media industry should not be distorted. If the old networks can adjust to genuine open competition and retain viewers, good for them. There should receive no public assistance.
23/ Ongoing support for public broadcasting – notably the ABC – is a separate issue. Broadly speaking, I believe some public subsidy of media and journalism is justifiable and necessary – just as we subsidise the arts, sport and other cultural activity.
However, current arrangements are very unsatisfactory; reform is needed
The Need for Truthfulness in Media
24/ The politics of this century, now more than a decade old, has been dominated by one event: the shocking attacks in America on September 11th 2001. This was quickly cited as the basis for the so-called ‘War on Terror’ and the invasion of Afghanistan.
Even in far-way Australia, the impact of the 9/11 attacks have been dramatic. Our intelligence agencies have grown like mushrooms; ASIO alone has a budget in 2011 that roughly an order of magnitude higher than a decade before. Some 30 pieces of legislation were, at various times, rushed through Parliament in the years following 9/11 – all supposedly to meet the ‘terrorist threat’. Since then, all talk of a post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ has vanished as the Australian military has also grown rapidly. Then there’s the continuing presence of Australian troops in Afghanistan…
25/ Under these circumstances, with the stakes so enormously high, the public reasonably expects professional journalists to wade through the detail, then disseminate and debate the truth as they see it, in an attempt to best establish what the truth is. We do not expect every journalist to cover every topic; we certainly don’t expect all journalists to agree. We DO expect robust debate that covers EVERY reason-based perspective. In short, we expect that just as medics take the Hippocratic Oath, journalists promote the Socratic principles of fair, rational and open debate in which TRUTH is the goal.
26/ A substantial international body of scholars have, over the years, developed peer-reviewed ‘demolitions’ of the official 9/11 narrative. Scholars such as David Ray Griffin and Graeme MacQueen has written damning material showing the complete impossibility and absurdity of the official narrative. The implication of their work is clearly that 9/11 was a false flag operation, carried out by insiders, not a gang of Arab hijackers. If that’s correct, the entire ‘War on Terror’ (including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan) has been carried out on a false pretext.
27/ I do not expect the ABC to agree with these scholars. I don’t expect these scholars be given free airtime to expound their views unquestioned on the public airwaves in Australia.
I DO expect that the ABC interviews them and covers their perspective, in news and current affairs, with seriousness and intellectual rigor.
28/ The reality has been the complete opposite. As far as I’m aware, the ABC has given no coverage at all the Engineers & Architects for 9/11 Truth or other highly credible parts of the 9/11 Truth phenomenon. This amounts to censorship. With a handful of exceptions there has been no fair coverage of the 9/11 Truth movement via the ABC (there was, for instance, one article in the Drum c. 2008 (comments closed quickly and that was it – although there were a LOT of comments)
29/ It may be the view of the Australian Prime Minister that 9/11 has been fully explained and any suggestions the official story is untrue are “stupid and wrong ”. The ABC Board may hold a similar view; So may ABC staff.
Nonetheless, the ABC has no right to exclude this topic from that very substantial part of the national discourse which it controls. To do so is censorship. It is especially obnoxious when, from time to time, ABC staff abuse their position by denigrate the 9/11 truth movement – whose most prominent spokespeople they will neither interview nor debate.
30/ 9/11 is by no means the only topic subject to heavy censorship by the ABC.
Here are just a few more examples where the ABC either provides no coverage at all or entirely one-sided coverage:
- World War Two and what is commonly labelled ‘The Holocaust’ (UTTERLY ONE-SIDED)
- Israel’s 1967 attack on the USS Liberty (NOT MENTIONED AT ALL)
- the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre (UTTERLY ONE-SIDED)
- the London bombings of July 7th 2005 (UTTERLY ONE-SIDED)
This is by no means an exhaustive list. In each case, many ‘inconvenient facts’ contradict the official narratives. In each case, ABC coverage is entirely one-sided (in the case of the USS Liberty attack, there’s no mention at all of the topic on the ABC website – except in comments from the public to articles that don’t mention it!)
31/ Each of these topics is of considerable political relevance to Australians. The Port Arthur massacre took place inside Australia. The London bombings were the trigger for a raft of additional ‘anti-Terrorist legislation’ rushed through the Australian parliament in late 2005. The Israeli attack on the USS Liberty – a likely example of a false flag operation gone wrong – provides essential historical context for understanding contemporary events. ‘The Holocaust’ is such a central cultural icon of our time it has even been subjected to attempts to enforce heterodoxy via the courts, using the mechanism of Human Rights legislation (in true Orwellian fashion!)
32/ The relevance of these topics is clear. The one-sidedness of the ABC’s coverage (the same applies to SBS) is stark. The question arises: is this acceptable behaviour on the part of the ABC? In my view it’s not. Our publicly funded broadcasters behave as though they have taken sides on these subjects – and actually wish to exclude critics and heterodox opinions, however credible and factually supported, from public discourse. That’s not acceptable.
33/ The ABC’s Charter at present, provides no requirement that the organisation tells the truth or reports in a balanced manner (at least in aggregate, over time). Consideration should be given to remedying this.
However, change is clearly needed in the personnel and culture of our public broadcasters. A number of people in the ABC – from Board level down – seem to have a strong commitment to keeping credible critical perspectives on several important topics (such as those listed above) under wraps. There are two obvious probable motivations (1) they are within, or allied with, the Zionist movement (2) they are within, or allied to, ‘intelligence agencies’, whether Australian (eg ASIO) or overseas (eg Mossad, CIA, MI6). These possibilities are not mutually exclusive.
Without personnel change to open up the ABC to a wider range of perspectives – and without cultural change so awkward question are routinely asked, not set aside – tinkering with the Charter will be of little value. BOTH are needed.
34/ In the longer-term – looking decades ahead and taking into account trends towards convergence and diversification already discussed – substantial funding for one or two public media organisations may well become an anomaly. Signs of this are emerging already.
Why, for instance, should ‘The Drum’ website receive public subsidy, when other major Australian news websites do not? If the goal is to provide for a wider diversity of views that don’t get covered on commercial or private websites, there might be a case for it. But as I’ve argued, that’s simply not the case. In relation to some of the most crucial issues of our time, the ABC censors opinion just as rigorously (if not more) than Australia’s privately owned mainstream media.
35/ A likely response to criticism of this type – and a response I’ve received when making this type of argument in the past – is that organisations such as the ABC cannot possibly cover every side of every argument and must necessarily make editorial choices, including the effective exclusion of some ideas that simply don’t merit a wide audience.
It’s a reasonable point. What’s unreasonable is its misapplication to justify the exclusion of perspectives that clearly have credibility. If, for instance, one university professor – and one alone – was to suggest the three WTC towers that collapsed on 9/11 were probably brought down by controlled demolition, a major media group like the ABC might reasonably not report the heterodox claim. When more than 1,600 qualified engineers and architects say this, it is clearly not a perspective that should be sidelined and ignored on the grounds that it’s marginal. Such a large body of informed opinion merits coverage. The ABC has no right to deny fair coverage.
36/ The bias of the Australian mass media – including our public broadcasters – has been egregious in relation to the succession of wars promoted by the USA in recent years.
Sceptical views about the real origins of the Afghanistan War go unreported, as previously mentioned. In the run up to the 2003 Iraq Invasion, some scepticism was voiced via the ABC, but in most of the private mass media the stampede to support invasion was thunderous. Newscorp often argues its editors have independent editorial control, but I’m unaware of a single editor of any of the hundreds of Murdoch-owned newspapers in Australia who took a different view on the Iraq War and failed to support the invasion. This is group-think on a mammoth scale.
37/ The attack on Libya this year provides an instance of media group-think within the Australian mass media more absolute even than the 2003 Iraq War. In this case not only has the Newscorp-dominated private mass media covered only one side of the debate. The ABC has done so too. An analysis of coverage on any of the ABC’s major news and current affairs channels would show that anti-war voices – and/or voices supporting the previous Libyan Government – have been excluded from the Australian mass media coverage and generally ridiculed. A similar comment applies to the attempts currently underway to launch a ‘regime change’ process against Syria.
38/ In recent years, on numerous occasion, I have complained to the ABC – usually via direct contact with journalists or programs – about matters discussed above. It has been a tiresome experience. Not once has anyone in the organisation shown any sign of wanting to grapple with the issues. In private conversations with journalists I know personally, the message has been clear: these issues are too hot for them to handle; they’re unwilling to go out on a limb, risking reputation and career.
It’s my strong impression that the media – including publicly funded mass media – has become first and foremost a mechanism for controlling public opinion; its role as an information provider has become subordinated to this primary, unstated goal, the principal beneficiaries of which are the mainstream Jewish/Zionist Lobby, western intelligence agencies and the western military-security complex. Each of these powerful partisan interests has effectively been shielded from proper scrutiny in our mass media. This is completely unacceptable.
39/ One possible defence for the ABC & SBS is to claim that its workings, subtle biases and output is in line with comparable overseas organisations such as the BBC. There is some truth in this. Indeed, one often gets the feeling the ABC largely takes its cues from the BBC. It often runs documentaries from the BBC on controversial topics such as war and terrorism, seemingly happy to shelter under the skirts of its larger and most famous sibling.
Yet nothing in any Australian laws or guidelines, as far as I’m aware, requires Australia to apply the age-old cultural cringe in this way. The BBC is not a model of perfection for Australian public media to follow blindly. The BBC suffers from many of the same problems as the ABC. It has parallel biases and needs similar remedies. It’s Board – like the Board of the ABC – is not properly reflective of the diversity of views in the society as a whole. Both the BBC and ABC Board can reasonably be accused of Zionist bias. The fact that the BBC shows this type of bias is NOT a reason for Australia to follow.
40/ The growth of modern telecommunications – and in particular the internet – is often compared to the development of a species-wide brain.
This is truly a crucial developmental stage for Australia – and for humanity as a whole.
We need to ensure our communications – especially broadcast and mass media – are not subject to domination by special interest groups and unaccountable lobbies that operate largely in secrecy. We need our media to serve the public as a whole – not the other way round.
We need our mass media to foster truthfulness and rational awareness – not to create false notions that some views (however well-founded) are beyond the pale and may be safely disregarded by politicians and the public simply because we never hear them articulated on our TV screens.
Newspaper evolution: an earlier examples of trends to more – and eventually less – media diversity:
Australia’s Great Parliamentary debate about 9/11 (Not!)
Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth (the major website of the 9/11 Truth Movement)
Hereward Fenton’s May 2008 article in The Drum about 9/11 – the ABC’s (one) exception that proves the rule?
Port Arthur (grounds for concern excluded from discussion in the Australian mass media)
The Hoax of the 2oth Century (no Australian mass media interview with Professor Arthur Butz in more than three decades. Why not?)
July 7th 2005 London Bombings (at least there was eventually an inquest in this case – unlike Port Arthur or 9/11!).
POSTSCRIPT 17th November 2011
Hush! The agenda is showing!
As of today the ‘Independent Media Inquiry Consultation Page‘ doesn’t list the above submission, although I received an acknowledgement my submission on 15th November.
The Inquiry is now towards the end of its second (and final?) week of hearings. These hearings are not televised; apparently Chairman Ray Finkelstein QC banned cameras from the proceedings.
By now, this Inquiry has all the credibility of a Medieval Guild investigating itself. Public input appears welcome – as long as we all agree with the “experts”.
Every now and again a media academic, analyst or “journalist” tweets via the #MediaInquiry hashtag about concerns the media is losing public credibility…
Truly, this would be a brilliant satire on the pomposity of latter-day Pharisees, worthy of Johnathan Swift, Franz Kafka or Eric Blair.
Such a shame it’s real life…