You can tell when a government is losing the plot big time: it over-reaches, over-reacts, and overdoes it, taking upon itself new draconian powers to shut down opposition and criticism. It moves further along the road to fascism in other words.
A government unsure of itself, unable to come up with worthwhile policies, and unable to govern fairly and justly will soon resort to intimidation, bullying, censorship and the heavy hand of the law to maintain power and quell resistance. We had a perfect example of this taking place yesterday.
Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy unleashed a doozey of an announcement allowing the government to heavily regulate and censor the media. His proposals for media reform are simply a thinly disguised attempt by the Labor government at shutting down opposition voices, and clinging to its tenuous hold on power.
Fortunately plenty of voices were quickly raised to offer condemnation of this ill-conceived and brown shirt policy. I even saw the old lefty from Media Watch interviewed about this on ABC news and he was not too thrilled with it either!
Let me cite three voices of rationality here. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was especially trenchant in its criticism. It even featured a front page with pictures of Stalin, Mao, Castro, and three other dictators, and a picture of Conroy, along with the headline, “Conroy Joins Them”. Wow, they were certainly not pulling any punches!
The accompanying article said in part, “Critics lined up to attack the proposed changes, which hang on whether the government can secure the Greens and the votes of four independents. Former press council head David Flint compared the government’s appointed advocate to Soviet regimes which he said ‘chose names which were completely contrary to what was the truth. It is dangerous … it will give the government a power it should never have, the power to determine the content of the press. The press is there as a check and balance against the government’.”
News Limited, publisher of The Daily Telegraph, and Fairfax lashed out at the proposals. ‘This government will go down in history as the first Australian government outside of wartime to attack freedom of speech by seeking to introduce a regime which effectively institutes government sanctioned journalism,’ News Limited chief executive Kim Williams said.
“Mr Williams added that the threat to take away privacy law exemptions ‘removes the capacity of journalists to do their job – it is a not-too-sophisticated endeavour to gag the media’. Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood said: ‘There’s no evidence of a problem to solve in Australia. We can’t see the purpose of further regulation of news publications.’ The Coalition will oppose legislation, due to be introduced later this week.”
Also, James Paterson had an incisive piece on this. He begins this way: “All politicians are self-interested. But few are as shameless as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. His proposed ‘media reforms’ may be a thinly veiled response to a technologically driven changing media landscape, but we all know their real purpose: to punish and rein in the federal government’s critics in the media.
“They amount to a massive expansion of government control over the media, and they have no place in a free society. Conroy has been egged on by Labor backbenchers and the Greens for months about the evils of media companies such as News Limited, publisher of The Australian. Former Greens leader Bob Brown famously dubbed News as part of the ‘hate media’ and called for licensing for newspaper proprietors. Current Greens leader Christine Milne called for a ‘fit and proper test’ so the government could control who invested in the media.”
Specific areas of concern include: “The changes include an attempt by the government to control currently independent bodies such as the Australian Press Council. A new public interest media advocate will oversee the press council’s activities. This will mark the end of self-regulation in Australia. The new regulator will also apply an extremely vague ‘public interest’ test to any changes in media ownership.
“Placing this power in the hands of a government regulator inevitably will insert political considerations into what should purely be a commercial decision-making process. This delivers on the Greens’ hopes that some individuals could be prevented from owning a media outlet. Australia now also effectively will have a press licensing system. Any media outlet not signed up to a government-endorsed media regulator will lose journalistic privileges such as exemptions from privacy laws.
“This will force media groups that are not presently members of bodies such as the press council to join, and is a powerful threat to existing members that they must not leave. It will be virtually impossible to run a media outlet in Australia without being under the supervision of government-appointed bureaucrats.”
Miranda Devine asks, “Is there anything this government will not tamper with? In its mistaken belief that more legislation equals good government we are witnessing one of the most frenetic and interventionist administrations our country has ever endured.”
She continues, “There can be little doubt that Conroy’s sole purpose is to bully the Murdoch press into submission, just as he once boasted that he had such ‘unfettered legal power’ over telecommunications executives that he could instruct them to ‘wear red underpants on your head’.
“This is the minister who has no problem with the ABC and Fairfax joining forces to report stories. But the minute News Limited and Channel Ten’s Meet The Press decide to work together he wants to impose legislation to stop it.
“Under this government attacks on free speech have combined in a pincer movement. Now Conroy wants to create a new layer of bureaucracy to regulate the media. His powerful Public Interest Media Advocate would be responsible for giving the media a ‘Heart Foundation Tick’ of approval, he said yesterday.
“Any media organisation which chooses not to be overseen by the PIMA will pay a heavy price. It will not be exempted from certain sections of the Privacy Act, like organisations which succumb to Conroy’s Heart Foundation tick of approval. This eminence would be in charge of applying the ‘public interest test’ to media purchases. Or as former competition regulator Graeme Samuel scathingly put it: ‘Political interest test’.”
This is just another knee-jerk reaction from a desperate government which knows that its days are numbered. It will go down swinging, and take as many innocent victims with it, it seems. September cannot come soon enough. Election now!