The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."
Saturday, June 30, 2012
The Australian newspaper rallies to defence of free media
IN the robust forum of public affairs journalism, smart politicians roll with the punches, weak ones whinge and dangerous or stupid ones try to suffocate free speech through tighter controls on media companies, especially those they perceive as hostile.
After spurious claims about "hate media" and newspapers conducting "regime change" campaigns, the Gillard government, egged on the by Greens, established the Finkelstein inquiry into media regulation. It recommended a government-funded star chamber to pass judgment on newspapers and broadcasters. The regulator would not be compelled to publish reasons for decisions, which would not be appealable. Journalists refusing to sacrifice their independence by bowing to its edicts would risk fines or imprisonment. As News Limited chief executive Kim Williams told Australian Agenda last weekend, the regulatory intervention proposed by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein would be an absurd "deliberate act of sabotage of free speech" akin "to a Stalinist kind of position...deserving of no consideration whatsoever".
In light of their track records, it is no surprise that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and the Greens are proposing "public-interest tests" on media ownership, a vague concept that raises the obvious issue of who would judge what serves the public interest. Not glass-jawed politicians or officials who often cannot discern the difference between their own interests and the public interest -- which is best served by a free, fair and vigorous media with the expertise to scrutinise politicians and governments.
Under scrutiny, the Gillard and Rudd governments have been found wanting. Julia Gillard has failed to stop the flow of asylum-seekers and achieve a community consensus on pricing carbon, which were two of the three major objectives on her "to do" list when she ousted Kevin Rudd two years ago. And her government, like his, has been held to account by this newspaper for the arrant waste of the school building stimulus program, the pink batts debacle, the extravagance of the National Broadband Network and for turning their backs on economic reform. In private, Labor's elder statesmen are more scathing than any political columnist or editorial about the party's performance since 2007. For holding a mirror up to government failures, the media has incurred the wrath of Labor and Greens politicians. While they are eager to "shoot the messengers", our coverage has remained thorough and fair, as it will be in the lead-up to next year's election when they, like many politicians before them from both sides, will no doubt seek some sort of rapprochement.
John Howard and his government, too, were often unhappy with coverage of issues, including the Australian Wheat Board and children overboard scandals and Coalition handouts, but they were smarter at keeping their gripes behind closed doors.
Senator Conroy has promised a package of regulatory measures incorporating the public-interest test for media owners and some proposals raised in the Finkelstein and Convergence reviews. Wisely, the Coalition would repeal a public-interest test and the kind of regulatory regime envisaged by the Finkelstein review. If Senator Conroy and his colleagues want to keep a vestige of credibility, they will not leave an anti-democratic legacy destined for the political dustbin.