Suppression Of Dissenting Voices


On the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation: Part Four.
Suppression Of Dissenting Voices

In order to determine the purpose of a political initiative such as the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation (IIMMR) it is important to examine both who is responsible for the initiative and what prompted them to proceed with that initiative. The Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation was the result of a campaign by the Green party, led by Federal Senator Bob Brown.

The Opening for Sen. Brown to call for the inquiry was the phone hacking scandal in Britain in which the now defunct newspaper “News Of The World” committed criminal acts in the pursuit of news. But what is the connection to Australia? News Of The World is owned by “News International” which is, in turn, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s “News Corporation”. There are several News Corporation Newspapers, notably, “The Australian” and “The Daily Telegraph” who have embraced editorial policies that oppose Sen. Browns vision for Australias future. In particular, on the Green parties belief in and proposed solutions for the threat of global warming.

Having been initiated as a result of conflict between News Corp and Sen. Brown over global warming, it is unsurprising that the IIMMR focused on reportage and commentary by The Australian and The Daily Telegraph on the subject of global warming and the Gillard governments response to global warming. In section 4.31 through 4.42 the IIMMR deals with this subject. In doing so, it gets to an inauspicious start. Quoting from “A skeptical climate”, a report published by the Australian Centre for Independent journalism, claiming that “overall, negative coverage of government policy outweighed positive coverage by 73 per cent to 27 per cent” and that ” negative coverage across News Limited papers (82 per cent) far outweighed positive coverage (18 per cent)” Finkelstein manages to leave out crucial information: these numbers omit neutral coverage of the subject. From the same report: “The Australian gave far more space to the coverage of climate change than any other newspaper. Its articles were coded 47% negative, 44% neutral and 9% positive”

The report contains a table showing reportage of Julia Gillards policy response to climate change:

Newspapers Negative Neutral Positive
The Daily Telegraph 65% 27% 8%
Herald Sun 59% 28% 12%
The Courier Mail 57% 26% 16%
The Australian 54% 33% 13%
The Northern Territory News 53% 29% 18%
The Advertiser 50% 26% 23%
Hobart Mercury 48% 27% 24%
The West Australian 45% 33% 22%
Sydney Morning Herald 42% 23% 36%
The Age 36% 33% 31%
Total 51% 29% 20%

This paints a very different picture to the one preferred by Finkelstein: “Its headline finding was that, overall, negative coverage of government policy outweighed positive coverage by 73 per cent to 27 per cent”. Why omit neutral reportage from the statistics? Perhaps because doing so is less supportive of the conclusion the IIMMR was intended to obtain?

It is entirely proper, when government makes a proposal which will enormously increase that governments power, that the press should respond in a profoundly skeptical manner. Part of the purpose of the press, discussed in the IIMMR is for the press to act as a check on government. Nor is there any shortage of coverage on this subject from various perspectives, from negative through neutral to positive. In my opinion and on the basis of the information found in “A Skeptical Climate”, the Australian public was well served by the press on this subject. The suggestion that the Australian public was insufficiently exposed to material supportive of Julia Gillards policy response to climate change is entirely unsupported by facts.

The use of “A Skeptical Climate” by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism is questionable in itself. From “A Skeptical Climate”:

“The words used to describe issues also frame the terms in which an issue is discussed. The carbon emissions reduction policy was originally referred to as the carbon pricing policy, although the Opposition leader Tony Abbott from the beginning referred to it as a ‘tax’. Under questioning, Julia Gillard agreed at a press conference announcing the policy on February 24 that the policy would be “effectively like a tax” (7.30 Report, 24 Feb, 2011). From then on, the word ‘tax’ was used more frequently than ‘policy’. This framing of the issue as a ‘tax’ tended to encourage a perception that the policy was aimed at individual consumers rather than large companies.”

This attempt to paint the use of the word “tax” in reference to the Gillard government’s response to climate change as somehow misleading unveils the publication’s partisan agenda. Gillard herself admitted that the policy whould be “effectively like a tax” and the claim that large companies would be the only entities affected by carbon pricing not only puts the authors of the report firmly in the left wing class warfare camp but is a bold faced attempt to mislead the reader into believing that individuals would not be affected by increasing the expenses borne by large companies. We are expected to ignore the fact that increased business costs get passed on to individuals by way of increased prices.

So why use, in an independent report, a publication so plainly committed to a partisan left wing perspective on the subject? It seems to me that the reason can only be that the individual using such a publication shares that perspective.

The above is all very interesting (to me, at least) but what on earth does it have to do with the title of this blog “Suppression Of Dissenting Voices”? It goes back to the fairness doctrine discussed, then airily dismissed with a perfunctory handwave by Finkelstein. I quote Bill Ruder, a public relations specialist for the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations who in the book “The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment” (New York: Random House, 1976) is reported to have said: “Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass right-wing broadcasters and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it was too expensive to continue.”.

The CATO institute has published a document titled “Broadcast Localism and the Lessons of the Fairness Doctrine” by John Sample.  I quote from that document: “In a report to the Democratic National Committee, the leaders of the campaign proudly noted: “Even more important than the free radio time was the effectiveness of this operation in inhibiting the political activity of these right-wing broadcasts”

Which brings me to section 9.49 of the IIMMR “An enforceable right of reply is a desirable reform for the media. There are no significant moral or policy objections to such a right and while there are arguments against making a right of reply enforceable, the advantages of enforcement outweigh the disadvantages of leaving the matter in the hands of the very body that published the adverse material in the first place.”

An enforceable right of reply is a means that has, in the past, been used by the left to suppress political speech by right wing commentators. It seems obvious that it would be used as such once established here in Australia. Small wonder Bob Brown and the Green party are in such a hurry to implement the reccomendations of the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: