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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The new politics

The media flew into a flap about the imminent threat to free speech last week over the proposal by the Communication’s Minister, Stephen Conroy, to improve regulation and diversity of media content in this country.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph covered itself in glory, comparing Senator Conroy with Stalin, Mao and a host of other totalitarian figures; as well as running a story about how the boss of News Limited, Kim Williams, is worried that "the government-appointed advocate will have the power to close down our ability to report on that which is going on in our society”. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m struggling to see where Boss Thinks Thing Is Bad Idea is news.

Maybe it is satire, as News Limited lost any ability to “report on that which is going on in society” years ago.

The editorial director of News Limited, Campbell Reid, is a member of the Australian Press Council – the very body that put a submission before the Independent Media Inquiry which  called for tougher penalties for breaches of standards, including fines, and the appointment of a “special panel” for “exceptionally grave” breaches of its standards.  But that didn't stop old Reid stumping up on the 7.30 Report to claim that Conroy’s reforms (which didn't go nearly as far as his own Press Council wanted to) left him “bewildered at the perceived necessity in a completely free society to impose Government sanctions on free speech”.

Of course this has nothing to do with the fact that the current business model for the Mainstream Media (MSM) is hopelessly failing/ as readers - and therefore their ultimate customers, advertisers – desert them in droves

As the excellent blog The Failed Estate points out, much of the hostility towards the Gillard Government is because the MSM perceive that things like the NBN and enforcement of greater editorial standards hit the corporate bottom line for Murdoch, et al. As The Failed Estate Points out, it is "a media trumpeting the public interest and acting in self-interest”. That the national broadcaster would go along for the ride shows how the leviathans of Australian media intimidate and bully their peers into pushing an agenda into the public domain.

That Conroy would embark on this policy is a sign of how politics is changing because the way we communicate is changing. Elements of the current Federal government could do worse than simply give up on the MSM. They get no acknowledgement, no discussion of policy and no serious information to the public through the existing media. Social media and new media outlets such as Independent Australia show how much the MSM are missing the mark. People are hungry for relevant information on their day to day lives, and the MSM is pretty much next to useless in providing it.

Take, for example, the campaign against Coial Seam Gas (CSG) in the community. Whatever you think of the merits or otherwise of CSG, this article from Inside Story shows that Rob Oakeshott, the Independent MHR whose vote is supporting the Gillard Government is – far from the picture painted by the MSM of him facing massive voter backlash for doing so – actually being greeted with raucous support on the ground in his own electorate because of a policy stance.

There are other examples - from news stories, to sport,  to natural disaster coverage,  to a simple traffic report - where the MSM get simple useful facts wrong, present them out-of-context in a meaningless manner or simply present an irrelevant opinion as fact (“The opposition spokesman said that...”). This is their core job, to provide news (stuff that is new) in a reliable manner. They can’t even do that.

They do all this oblivious to the reality that people have new ways of finding things out. We can go to source information just as quickly as they can. We can watch or read transcripts of press conferences or read press releases. We can get more information relevant to our day-to-day lives without having to even bother with the inane chatter that is the MSM. And through social media we can share it with others.

But it’s not just the MSM that doesn't get this new way of communicating.

At least one Australia Post employee was threatened with a warning counselling because of content on this blog. A warning counselling is the first step in a disciplinary process leading to dismissal from employment. It is significant because no identity of any postal worker is identified on this blog. When Australia Post made the allegation they could produce no evidence linking that particular employee with this blog. The allegations were unproven.

Issuing a formal warning counselling, and the implications of dismissal, make a cogent case that this was an attempt to stifle this blog and intimidate any would be author. This author would be interested if any other postal workers have been caught up in this obvious fishing expedition on the part of Australia Post’s Human Resources department (who would be more productively employed ensuring that Australia Post paid its employees correctly and on time as is the Law under s.323 of the Fair Work Act (2009).)

None of Australia Post’s actions in this matter are consistent with the ideals of liberalism that have underpinned western thought since the seventeenth century, but it is consistent with the sort of totalitarianism Kim Williams and the Daily Telegraph was so concerned to warn us about.

It is curious is that this sort of attempt-to-silence comes not from the Government, where News Limited et al spend a lot of time pointing the finger, but from a corporation. And there are other examples of corporations engaging in stifling free speech, just none so close to the blog you’re reading now.

That hallmark of MSM integrity, The Australiancalled for the blogger Greg Jericho of Grog’s Gamut fame to be sacked as apublic servant when he we outed by their journalist James Massola. He and the Australian ended up with egg on their faces when their actions not only spurred the popularity of Grog’s Gamut, but made their own feeble efforts look dismal in comparison to the studied contributions from Mr Jericho on economics, sport and the arts.

Such, such are the joys of this new communications age. The frenzied meltdown of the MSM in the face of this change shows no signs of abating. They roam the intellectual spaces of the world like a mob of Ranters intent on smashing the mills and machines that threaten their livelihood.

It is pretty obvious that the Murdoch empire is doomed, and the emperor has no clothes.