Remember, Remember the 5th of November

Posted Monday November 5, 2007 by John Gunders in |

Sometime in the last week, while I was eating far too much fantastic Italian cuisine in Melbourne, the Meme’s second anniversary passed unnoticed. It seems a little arrogant to attempt a retrospective on our first two years, when it has been the better part of two months since the last substantive posting, but I should take the opportunity to thank our regular readers (if there are any left) and as always, to encourage you to engage with the debate.

I was prompted to write by the confluence of three things that happened today that all hit a chord. First, it is the fifth of November, and while it is certainly inappropriate (and probably illegal these days) to encourage people to attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament (in whatever country you like), I will say that it is a good night to watch V for Vendetta. And happy cracker night to anybody whose nanny-state hasn’t already banned it.

Second, I attended a small seminar in my research centre on a media literacy project in Malaysia. The seminar was interesting for the fact that all of the mainstream media (print, radio, and television) in Malaysia is either owned by the government or by companies with strong ties to the ruling party, and most of what passes for “alternative” media is either owned by these same companies, or by the opposition parties. Which suggests to me that “alternative” simply means the same policies from a slightly different perspective. That is, this is a country that allows no dissent and no opposition to the dominant ideology (remember Anwar Ibrahim?).

Finally, I read this in Crikey (behind the paywall, unfortunately):

An audit of the freedom of information available to the Australian media, released today, makes a powerful argument that free speech in Australia is being subtly whittled away.

The factual basis for the proposition that the media’s freedom to obtain and published information is being whittled away is incontestable. The anti-terrorism laws alone are oppressive enough to justify this statement. Then there is other evidence:

  • Australia has slipped from 12th to 28th place on an international index of press freedom.
  • There are 335 Acts of the Commonwealth Parliament with specific secrecy provisions to stop information on subjects ranging from gambling revenue to livestock disease.
  • There are endless accounts of how the executive government perverts and frustrates the freedom of information laws in every jurisdiction.
  • The whistleblower protection laws are narrow, convoluted and inconsistent across Australia.
  • The courts are said to increasingly using suppression orders which prevent the media reporting the proceedings of the courts in certain circumstances.

The article’s author, Denis Muller, goes on to say that the media itself must take some degree of responsibility for this state of affairs:

The slaggier ends of the profession and the industry behave in ways that positively invite tighter controls on information. It is a matter of profound frustration to the responsible ends of the profession and industry that this is so, but the remedy lies in their own hands, as much as in the hands of government, parliament and judiciary.

Now there is a long way to go before the Australian media reaches the sort of situation that exists in Malaysia, or—heaven forbid—the over-the-top but somehow still plausible police state of V’s Britain, but the complaints against the Australian media are justified when they provide sound-bite politics; lowest common denominator value judgements; and biased reporting. The sorts of parallel-universe commentary that has lead to Larvatus Prodeo regularly referring to The Australian as the government gazette does no favours to the industry as a whole.

So all the more power to independent outlets like Crikey, to the political bloggers, and to citizen-led initiatives, such as You Decide 2007.

And happy Guy Fawkes night!

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