Cartoon: By David Pope
Freedom of speech is under sustained attack by the federal government in Australia. Despite widespread public concern about section 18C of the racial discrimination act, under which columnist Andrew Bolt was prosecuted last year, the Attorney General has foreshadowed further legislation under which virtually any language including political discussion may be subject to legal action if it is deemed to cause offense.
Under this legislation, the burden of proof will be reversed so that it is up to the accused to prove innocence, rather than the plaintiff prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. If despite the law being loaded against the accused, the case fails, then the plaintiff is not to be required to pay costs. It seems that the government does not wish to discourage frivolous complaints.
Meanwhile, the ongoing war against freedom of speech in the media is being stepped up, with a plan to strip newspapers of privacy protections unless they submit to ‘self regulators’. The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell has put the federal government on notice, that this will be resisted:
Premier Barry O'Farrell has revealed proposals expected to go before the federal cabinet next week could be in conflict with current NSW laws, and would be scuttled by the state government if they were sought to be introduced.
Mr O'Farrell, in a letter to News Limited CEO Kim Williams, said he would reject any attempts by the Commonwealth to water down existing NSW media shield laws, which among other things protect the identity of sources, claiming such a move would be an "insidious assault on the freedoms of Australians".
"I am alarmed and disturbed that these freedoms, which I believe are fundamental to a strong liberal democracy and robust free market economy, are under threat from Commonwealth actions," Mr O'Farrell said.
"Plans by senior Commonwealth ministers for regulators with 'more teeth' in association with the context of proposals by the Commonwealth government's reviews are, in my view, antithetic in a liberal democracy and an insidious assault on the freedoms of Australians. …
… Shield laws provide newspapers certain privacy protections under the Evidence Act in the pursuit of news stories and news gathering. They allow journalists to protect the identity of sources, which is invaluable in news gathering and exposing, in particular, the activities of government.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's latest plan is believed to contain a threat to remove this protection unless newspapers subject themselves to a ministerial veto on who regulates their editorial complaint systems. …
With virtually all of the media giving coverage to the possibly illegal and corrupt, or potentially, reprehensible legal malpractice by the PM in the past, it is easy to see what this is really about. It dovetails in nicely with Roxon’s attempts to control the internet and social media to help deal with those ‘internet nut jobs’ (the type of people who write blogs.)
Governments everywhere, would like to avoid any form of scrutiny, but the efforts that this one is making rival those of China, Russia, Iran, and most other dictatorial shitholes.