The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people. – Tom Clancy.
Bob Brown of the Greens is still pushing for an inquiry into the Australian media, including consideration of requiring print media to be licensed. While Gillard readily admits that she had no evidence of wrongdoing in Australia, she is sympathetic to a wide-ranging fishing expedition to try to find some.
The PM insists that News Limited needs to answer hard questions about its operations in the wake of the British scandal. Given that there is no evidence of any impropriety here, it is a little difficult to assess just what those ‘hard questions’ would be about.
The British have some justification in inquiring into the media, given the serious allegations that have been raised. It is worth pointing out though, that for the present those allegations are about one newspaper there out of a number owned by News. In the US, the FBI is investigating reports that the same paper attempted to hack 9/11 victim’s phones. Those reports seem to be rather nebulous.
Both of those countries have a reason to take some sort of action, as there have been allegations of criminal activity there. It is pointless though for us to do the same thing on the off chance that something may have happened. The whole thing is like asking the police to search scrubland because it looks like a good place to hide a body, even though nobody is missing and there is no evidence of a murder.
Alexander Downer was Australia’s foreign minister for eleven years under the Howard government and has had a great deal of experience in being on the wrong side of the press. He certainly has no reason to feel sorry for News Ltd or any other outlet. He is big enough though to accept criticism, and believes the government should do the same:
Senator Bob Brown wants to investigate the print media and Julia Gillard is sympathetic to the idea. She herself has taken to abusing the media, saying they write what she has inelegantly called crap, so any inquiry into the purveyors of such material seems to her a good idea.
You have to wonder why this has suddenly become an issue in Australia. There seem to be two totally unrelated issues which have triggered this debate. The first is a hardy annual. The media have been criticising the Government and their partners the Greens. Bob Brown hasn't been hardened to the world of media criticism. He hasn't been in government before. And it's all starting to get Julia Gillard down. Well, welcome to the world of democratic power and toughen up!
I remember over the years bringing peace to Bougainville, helping to liberate East Timor, getting Australia into the East Asia Summit, negotiating free trade agreements with America, Thailand and Singapore, to name just a few things.
That wasn't the media narrative: They remembered the charity stunt I did with this newspaper using half a stocking. I was paraded in cartoons and columns as some sort of sexually ambiguous freak; …
These days, Julia Gillard is promoting her $23 billion carbon tax. The media should report what she says and does, of course. And they do. But they need to be sceptical. Is it really true that only a small number of households will be worse off? How much will the system cost to administer? Will higher prices really reduce demand for carbon intensive products like electricity? And the daddy of them all, how much will this $23 billion tax affect our weather? Will it abolish droughts, remove threats to the Great Barrier Reef and stop the sea level from swamping the western suburbs? Or are we paying $23 billion for nothing? Answering those questions is part of the debate.
These debates make for good policy. If the Government knows that everything it is going to do will be tested in this rigorous way, it will think policies through all the more carefully. And the winners will be the Australian public.
And I'm sorry to say, as a former Cabinet minister myself, statements by governments can't any longer be taken at face value. The public relations geniuses are always hiding behind the curtain hoping their scripts and sets work out. God forbid that the media would just swallow all that tripe on face value.
What is more, powerful people can make or break our lives. They themselves should be put under constant scrutiny. And it should be tough scrutiny. A leader or senior Cabinet minister who can't take the daily diet of personal abuse, cruel cartoons and just out and out criticism shouldn't be in the job.