The Australian Labor/Green government has proven to be no friend of freedom. Along with the various Labor state governments, we have seen many freedoms being whittled away. All sorts of legislation, such as vilification laws, anti-discrimination laws, and so on, have all taken their toll on freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of religion.
Now things are set to get a whole lot worse. The government has just released some proposals, based on a 400-page report by former leftist judge Ray Finkelstein. It wants to seek draconian powers to clamp down on the media, including even such things as blog sites and Facebook. Bloggers such as Andrew Bolt and myself for example could be directly targeted and silenced.
A report in the Weekend Australian makes for frightening reading. It begins this way: “Print and online news will come under direct federal government oversight for the first time under proposals issued yesterday to create a statutory regulator with the power to prosecute media companies in the courts.
“The historic change to media law would break with tradition by using government funds to replace an industry council that acts on complaints, in a move fiercely opposed by companies as a threat to the freedom of the press. The proposals, issued yesterday by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, also seek to widen the scope of federal oversight to cover print, online, radio and TV within a single regulator for the first time.
“Bloggers and other online authors would also be captured by a regime applying to any news site that gets more than 15,000 hits a year, a benchmark labelled ‘seriously dopey’ by one site operator. The head of the review, former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, rejected industry warnings against setting up a new regulator under federal law with funding from government.
“The major newspaper companies were unanimous in opposing a statutory regulator under federal law, with Kerry Stokes’s Seven West Media declaring it was inconsistent with the notion of a free press. Media companies also warned that government funding for the new regulator would undercut the workings of a healthy democracy, with APN News & Media bluntly opposing any increase in regulation.”
Not surprisingly the Greens are fully in favour of such restrictive and freedom-inhibiting measures: “Greens leader Bob Brown urged the government to establish its new media watchdog so it could enforce standards across print, online, radio and television platforms by the end of the year.”
Now I have not yet read the 400-page report, and it is early days yet. But already many are expressing their concerns. Andrew Bolt for example says this about the 15,000 hits blog concept: “That comes to just 41 hits a day, which could be racked up by, say, 10 interested people, clicking a few pages each. And what this tiny band write for each other is now to be policed by men from the government, acting on complaints from activists, busybodies and the eagerly aggrieved.
“It’s easy to say that only the guilty need fear the consequences. But who the hell has the right to define ‘guilty’? Since when was free speech a threat – and a bigger threat than controls on it? Can even ‘responsible’ free speech flourish when the process of regulation is the punishment? Already it is easier for me and you to shut up about some subjects than to be forced to justify our statements to a tribunal, generally staffed by people of hostile political views.
“Just this aspect of the report defines for me the essential nature of the Finkelstein inquiry’s bid for ‘control’ of what’s written and broadcast – its gross impertinence, deep intrusiveness and only arbitrarily defined restraint on its passion to control the free speech of others.
“And be warned. In writing even this I have taken a professional risk. In no genuinely free society should I be scared to speak like this. Nor should you. Defend free speech while you still have what’s left.”
Obviously I have some vested interests in all this. I of course have a blog and it certainly gets more than 15,000 hits a year – way more. So CultureWatch will also be subject to the government censors. The truth is, there exist plenty of secular lefties who would love to see this site permanently shut down, along with many other sites.
If Big Brother gets involved in this process of weeding out politically incorrect speech then we are all in trouble big time. This certainly will be the end of democracy and free speech in Australia. This is of such great concern that already groups have been formed to resist this statist move. One such group is Free Speech Australia which can be found here: www.freespeechaustralia.com/
As it says on its homepage: “Freedom of speech is VITAL for any democracy to function. The right to speak freely without fear of prosecution or government censorship is at the core of our society. Yet freedom of speech in Australia is now under serious threat.
“A government-commissioned report just announced plans to create a multi-million dollar super-regulator to control not just mainstream media in Australia, but websites, private blogs and even Twitter and Facebook as well! Under this proposal, any online site that involves the ‘public dissemination’ of information that gets more than 40 hits a day will be subject to Big Brother censorship and regulation!!!
“Even worse, the SuperRegulator ‘would not have to give reasons for its decisions’ and the decisions ‘would not be subject to appeal.’ This super-regulator is a threat to people on all sides of the political spectrum: This is not a matter or right or left – this is a matter of right and wrong.”
This is very scary stuff indeed; real Big brother stuff – something every one of us should be greatly concerned about, and willing to speak up about before we no longer have the right to speak out.