I am a Burmese exile taking a near-permanent refuge in New York and Sydney. Here are my essays about Burma and anything else I feel like writing about. And posting the articles I like from selected sites. Bridging Burma to the world this Blog is more of a Politically-Oriented Literary Blog than a Plain News Blog or a Sophisticated Thoughts Blog.
Free Press To Be
Sacrificed For Political Retribution. Freedom
of the media is too important to be controlled by government.The Independent Media Inquiry has
proposed just what was expected: an outrageous attack on freedom of speech and
Its 470-page report, written by inquiry chairman Ray
Finkelstein and released on Friday, concludes Australia needs a mandatory
''News Media Council'' that would have coercive powers to regulate what it
deems is ''fairness'', ''accuracy'', ''balance'', and ''quality'' in the press.
This new independent regulator would have power to compel
newspapers to publish responses from people who feel aggrieved. And it would
have the power to censor: it could, for instance, force media organisations to
delete stories from their websites that regulators feel aren't up to standard.
But it wouldn't just
regulate newspapers. As if to emphasise just how radical his proposals are,
Finkelstein says websites that get more than 15,000 hits a year should be
brought under the council's jurisdiction. That's just 41 hits a day - in other
words, pretty much every website publishing anything that could be described as
''news, information and opinion of current value''.
The new body would also regulate every magazine with a
print-run above just 3000 copies. That would be the entire magazine industry,
from the street press upwards. With such ambition, one might ask why
Finkelstein excluded books, email newsletters, and Twitter from his regulatory
The specifics of Finkelstein's proposals are bad enough. But
they represent something more concerning: a reversal of the principle that it
is not the role of governments to stand in judgment of public debate. The
report may insist that this government-funded body will be independent, but in
reality, it is a government body. And, when it comes to freedom of speech, the
state should be subordinate to society - not the other way around.
This principle that has taken centuries to develop should not
be abandoned just because some politicians don't think they get a fair shake
from newspapers. The media inquiry was obviously political retribution against
The Greens and the (Labor)
government have long believed newspapers report the carbon tax and the national
broadband network unfairly (these issues are specifically raised in
Finkelstein's report). More broadly, they claim the press has an anti-government
bias. Labor senator Doug Cameron said in November: ''The Murdoch press are an
absolute disgrace, they are a threat to democracy in this country and we should
absolutely be having a look at them.'' Cameron was angry about leadership
speculation printed in The Daily Telegraph. Of course the speculation turned
out to be entirely true.
Recall that Bob Brown opportunistically used the News of the
World phone hacking scandal in Britain to suggest that the Australian
government should license journalists and newspapers. But to be fair to Brown,
perhaps licensing was not as far-out an idea as it seemed at the time, given
If Finkelstein's proposals are adopted, all news websites,
newspapers and magazines would have to sign up to and comply with the News
Media Council's standards of conduct. If they refuse, they would be taken to
court and punished ''in the usual way''. This might not be called ''licensing''
but it is virtually the same thing.
What happens if a
blogger rejects the standards or refuses to delete something? Eventually, after
contempt of court proceedings, they could be jailed. Nor are Finkelstein's
The News Media Council would apply to newspapers, websites
and magazines the same sort of regulations that at present oversee radio and
television broadcasters. Problem is, those regulations are frequently used by
political partisans as a weapon to attack controversial broadcasters.
Late last year Alan Jones was taken to the Australian
Communications and Media Authority because he had described New South Wales
bureaucrats as ''scumbags that run around preying on productive people''.
The authority, in its wisdom, decided Jones had not made
''reasonable efforts'' to air other ''significant viewpoints''. And in response
to a complaint by GetUp!, it is holding a formal investigation into whether
Jones interviews too many climate sceptics. If we value free expression, these
are not judgments any government body should be making for us.
Yes, there is good journalism and bad journalism. Newspapers
should offer rights of reply and letters pages.
We should reject
Finkelstein's proposals, not to defend the media but to defend a fundamental
liberal principle: no government should have power to decide what constitutes
''fair'' or ''balanced'' speech. Freedom of the press is just too important. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(It is so fucking unbelievable that, in this modern age of Ipads and WiFi Internet, Australians are seriously talking about licensing the journalists and newspapers (and of course the poor bloggers like me). To remind them how stone-age that idea is I would like to quote late Colonel Maung Maung the architect of Burma's 1958 coup which brought the end of democracy and freedom in Burma.
"We immediately brought in yearly-licensing of newspapers; and the newspaper-owners are so scared of us not renewing their licenses they stop printing bad news of our army. Journalists, we do not need to license them. We just catch them and send them to Co Co Gyun (Burma's remote penal island in the Indian Ocean) to die of starvation."
That brutal media licensing system in Burma lasted more than six decades and only last year it was dismantled and Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr was one of the very first foreign leaders to applaud that decision.)