The Daily Telegraph (NSW) outdid itself this week with its attacks on Senator Conroy. When you succumb to snarl, slur and slander clearly you have lost the argument. The Tele must have lost this one really badly.
Not content with a full page ad hominem pictorial attack on Conroy equating him to Stalin, they followed up the next day by apologising to Stalin for their comparison. Oh dear. What are they afraid of? Is their unhindered capacity to promulgate abuse such as this what they really perceive to be “Freedom of the Press”?
The Daily Telegraph owner and editors know they have influence. Even though I don’t buy their paper, their front page stares up at me in supermarkets and newsagents. Get on the Tele‘s wrong side and you can be sure they will give you hell. They know too well how to wield their influence for maximum effect.
The Tele masters have the freedom to fill front pages with massive headlines like “Brogden’s Sordid Past”, “King Rat”, “Who’s the Big Cheese”, and “Thomson in New Escort Scandal”. They have the freedom to be selective in what they tell, to disparage, distort and misrepresent; to fake photographs; to ignore facts, to mock experts and indeed to dismiss anything at all that might challenge their own prejudices.
And when they are proved wrong, even in a court of law, they have the freedom to bury the stories of their errors on page 17 or even ignore them entirely.
I like freedom. But even freedom must have its limits. For example, we no longer consider it appropriate to enslave others or to exploit children. No one’s freedom should impinge on the rights of others.
(The freedom to pollute our environment with apparent impunity is one freedom that I think should be curtailed further. Having spent a recent Sunday cleaning rubbish from roadsides in my neighbourhood, it rather irks me to see bottles, cans and packaging already littering them again!)
Many “freedoms” that we once took for granted were restricted following government over-reactions to “9/11”. In practice, most laws constrain our freedoms in one way or another. We either live with those restrictions or we agitate for change. Very few of us have the benefit of large printing presses and a ready readership seeking the latest news and information. Those that do are particularly privileged.
Freedoms should come with responsibilities. Rights should come with obligations. Privileges should come with accountability. I do wonder why some newspapers, such as the Daily Telegraph, fear accountability? Certainly Governments (and oppositions) should be held to account. But newspapers can potentially have a massive influence on both our choice of government and on the success of pieces of legislation. The Murdoch press, through its relentless campaigning on many political issues, is in reality the most potent lobby group in the country. If it is influencing our government, it should be held accountable.
I don’t agree with those that say “it’s easy, if you don’t like it, don’t buy that paper”. We have such a limited choice. Some states only have the Murdoch options. Elsewhere the options are little better. It is of course no wonder fewer people are reading newspapers these days. But those that still do should not be subjected to an unrelenting diet of tainted tat and tack.
Freedom of the Press should ideally result in investigative reporting, critical analysis of policy alternatives, accurate presentation of facts and, where appropriate, editorial comment involving interpretation and points of view. Alas, much of the “news” sections of most of Australia’s Press seem to have become “advertorials” for the viewpoints of owners and editors. We do not get the quality of Press we need.
I would like to see some Freedoms for the Media Consumer so as to give us:
- A better and broader range of newspapers
- A clearer distinction between viewpoint and fact
- Some objectivity and world context when it comes to examining our economy and our well-being
- A preparedness for newspapers to admit when they stuff things up and
- Confidence that if newspapers do try to con us they will be held to account
We get our chance to chuck out governments every three or four years. Regrettably we get no say on media moguls and their minions who seem to push their agendas with neither challenge nor accountability for decades.
It is time all that changed.