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John Passant

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March 2013



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
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Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

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Me on Razor Sharp this morning
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Free speech for billionaires

The Daily Telegraph front page 13 March

In a studied and erudite piece Rupert Murdoch’s the Daily Telegraph in Sydney has likened the hitherto unknown Red Terror, Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Communications in the Gillard Government, to Stalin, Mao, Castro, Kim Jong-un, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad.

The hysterical response to this paragon of sensible analysis reveals to all of us the dictatorial regime of oppression and suppression Conroy and his ubermeister, Julia Gillard, are planning to unleash on us.

It also goes without saying that the elections on 14 September won’t go ahead, or if they do they will be rigged.

It is a little known fact that re-education camps have been set up in CBDs across the country to eradicate the anti-social ideas of News and Fairfax management and owners.

Evidently, heavily armed groups of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Union members have been seen training in bush near Sydney, allegedly using photos of Saint Rupert of the Free Speech as targets.

So what has prompted all this abuse? A few years ago the Labor Government set up an enquiry into the media, both its market arrangements and its content regulation. The Finkelstein Report made a number of recommendations, few of which the Labor Government has had the guts to take up. It has instead produced a watered down set of proposals.

The ALP fears the media, and the lesson it has drawn from its capitulation to the mining companies over the resource rent tax is, don’t antagonise big business. This means it has abandoned one of its traditional social democratic roles of imposing solutions on capitalists for the benefit of capitalism.

Believe it or not the interchange of different, but acceptable, ie neoliberal, ideas is important to the efficient operation of capitalism. Hence vague Labor Party suggestions about responsible reporting. Instead they have bowed to sections of capital instead of ruling in the interests of the system.

But even the media backdown that Conroy has presented hasn’t satisfied the fruitcake faction of capital organised around The Australian and reflected in the vicious hardline neoliberals in the Liberal Party.

Stephen Conroy, the personification of evil, plans to set up a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) who will, and wait for this, rule on whether media self-regulation is working. Shock! Horror! It means that PIMA will judge whether self-regulatory bodies like the Australian Press Council actually meet and apply their own standards.

Self-regulation is a failure, as I argued in my article last year on the London Hospital prank phone call. The Fox is in charge of the hen house. PIMA doesn’t change that.

The government will also introduce a public interest test in determining whether media mergers and takeovers should go ahead.

At the same time the Government proposes removing the 75% reach rule which prevents TV stations broadcasting to more than 75% of particular markets. Various companies – e.g. Nine and Southern Cross – have been talking about merging. PIMA will oversight the public interest test.

But some powerful TV moguls don’t like the proposed change in light of the competition they will face from a merged Nine and Southern Cross conglomeration so Conroy has wimped it and referred the matter to a Select Committee.

All fairly mickey mouse stuff. So why the overreaction from news Ltd and to a lesser extent Fairfax in a bad cop good cop routine? Billionaires aren’t used to any restriction on both their accumulation of profits and their right to inculcate their views of the world on the rest of the population.

In the case of The Australian, for example, a newspaper that in its almost 40 years of operation has never, I understand, made a profit, the money is well spent because it buys political influence over politicians and over some sections of the population. The level of that influence over voters might be overblown but politicians act as if it is true.

And more generally newspapers help to set the atmosphere that has seen the stampede of politics to the right, the re-definition of what is the centre and the left, and to make more and more right wing and extreme ideas acceptable.

Free speech is free speech for the billionaires. It is they who control the means of communication. It means they control the diet of ideas that most people feed on. That free speech for them is built on the denial of free speech for the rest of us.

Their control of the means of production of media is a quasi monopoly. Couple that with a trend towards oligopoly and monopoly in the mass media and the end result is that in Australia, for example, Rupert Murdoch controls 70% of the metropolitan press. He doesn’t allow difference and debate to clog up the arteries of his papers of influence.

These free speech campaigners are the same people who have been silent or complicit in the detention without trial of Bradley Manning for over 1000 days and now his impending jailing; who have not raised a finger to defend Julian Assange; who lie about almost everything.

Fairfax, Murdoch’s main competitor, produces the influential Age in Melbourne and the Sydney Morning Herald in Sydney, plus the business paper the Australian Financial Review (undergoing a process of rabid neoliberal Murdochisation under an editor poached from the Murdoch stable), a raft of regional and other papers like the Canberra Times, the Illawara Daily Mercury and so on.

So there is little diversity in the offerings from Murdoch and Fairfax. It is much the same in TV land, with some cities having a few more competitors offering My Kitchen Rules against the Block.

The control of what we are offered and what is acceptable to capital, in this case its neoliberal variant, means that the media is defined not by its difference but by its similarity. Fairfx and News are like the Labor Party and Liberals – they have minor differences over the neoliberal agenda.

Conroy Stalin

So all this huffing and puffing, this comparison graphically of Stephen Conroy as Stalin, is about protecting the political and economic power of News and, by extension until it falls over, Fairfax. It is about free speech for billionaires.

Is there an alternative? As I wrote in my article about the 2 day FM prank call to a London Hospital called It’s just a joke:

The best way to regulate media offerings would be for unions like the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance to fight for and win greater power – with union house committees making decisions about production and the like …

That isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take years of struggle. The union hasn’t led a real fight in defence of jobs for decades so the rank and file will need to do that and by winning back power be able to create newspapers close to the people.

Take for example Gina Rinehart, perhaps the richest woman in the world. She is the biggest shareholder in Fairfax Newspapers. Adele Ferguson, a Fairfax journalist, has been asked for details of her sources in her book on Rinehart. The book exposed details of discussions between Rinehart and her son one of her children suing Rinehart.

Rinehart is now seeking details of Ferguson’s sources. Ferguson has refused to divulge them but if a court orders the release of the details, Ferguson could go to jail if she says true to her commitment not to reveal her sources. What a surprise. A billionaire taking action that could eventually see a journalist jailed.

The MEAA should be threatening to shut down media across Australia if Rinehart gets anywhere near success. It hasn’t in the past and won’t now.

Is it all bleak? Will we have to accept a world according to Rupert. No.

There are papers that do present a different world view, that do talk about and argue for democracy and a world where free speech is for all, not just for billionaires.

If you are tired of the dross of the mainstream media, there is a socialist alternative. Have a read.



Comment from paul walter
Time March 15, 2013 at 10:42 am

Two things. There WAS a formation of sorts in place up to the early 2000’s: the left journals GLW and SA, public affairs blogs were emerging and ABC/SBS/ and Fairfax (when it was still interested in journalism), that offered journal of record and opinion balance against Murdochism and Packer tabloidism, on the right.
You could check three of four sources for different takes on an issue and arrive at some sort of realistic conclusion on a given issue.
Had the politicians had even a skerrick of imagination and decency, this structure could have remained in place as a (barely) adequate mechanism for mass communication that a healthy society of healthy individuals would require on which to base individual and community decision-making.
Howard, Alston, some sections of the ALP right and neolib afficianados in general attacked the structure instead, demonstrating yet again Marx’s observation that capitalism is indiscriminate at best in its wiping out of old forms, regardless of their actual value.

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