Freedom wanes

Attacks on public broadcasters around the world have increased in the last years. Murdoch has been a longtime critic of the BBC, ABC and PBS. His media cheerleaders talk about ingrained left-wing bias and lack of accountability in these institutions but their true aim is more sinister – the eradication of any credible competition to the corporate agenda. Who can forget Murdoch crony Tony Ball talking about the public’s supposed dissatisfaction with the BBC? His plan, of course, was to split up the national broadcaster and lessen its overall reach across Britain and the world. It matters little to Murdoch and his ilk that in survey and survey the public express strong support in the independence of the BBC. Likewise with the ABC in Australia.

Take this 2003 survey conducted by British public relations company Weber Shandwick in relation to Iraq’s WMD. The results speak for themselves: “The public is two times more likely to trust the BBC over the Government on the issue of weapons of mass destruction. More than half (54%) of the respondents are much more likely (28%) or somewhat more likely (26%) to believe the BBC on the issue of WMDs. Only one in five (21%) are much more likely (9%) or somewhat more likely (12%) to believe the government.

The European Federation of Journalists reports that journalists across Europe are banding together to voice their concern over the crisis in public broadcasting. Arne König, the Chairman of the EFJ, says that aside from worker’s rights being questioned, political pressure is attempting to silence dissenting viewpoints. “More than ever, these values need to be defended,” says König.

The state of Australia’s public broadcasters, ABC and SBS, is worrying. Governmental pressure is resulting in increasingly reluctant staff tackling the hard issues or asking the tough questions. We now have to rely on comedy to provide the most incisive political comment:

INTERVIEWER: Mr Howard, I wondered if the meaning of Anzac Day has somehow changed?

JOHN HOWARD: Anzac Day is a day of great importance in the Australian calendar, Graham.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think that importance is?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I think the essential lessons and characters of Anzac Day are as they have always been, Bryan.

INTERVIEWER: And what are they?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, it celebrates that very important time when the Australian Government made a very significant decision, Bryan to

INTERVIEWER: To do as it was told by an imperial power.

JOHN HOWARD: — to assemble a very, very impressive body of young men, very talented, very resourceful young men and to send them away to

INTERVIEWER: Invade another country.

JOHN HOWARD: — to defend Britain.

INTERVIEWER: By invading Turkey.


The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is holding the annual Orwell Awards – “the gong for the annual tongue-in-cheek anti-press freedom awards.” Aimed at those in power who actively discourage press freedom, including the majority of the ministers in the Howard government. One note of advice to the MEAA. Holding an Inaugural World Press Freedom Dinner tomorrow night is a noble idea, and speakers include shit-stirrers David Marr, Richard Neville and John Birmingham. But how the hell did the NSW Premier Bob Carr score an invitation? He has more press secretaries than John Howard and is the master of spin. His press secretary Walt Secord won an award in 2003 for best spinner in the state.


A final warning to those who believe in retaining the current state of affairs regarding Australian defamation laws. This report by the University of Melbourne proves that our freedom of speech, compared to the US, is being seriously eroded:

“This article reports on a comparative content analysis of more than 1,400 Australian and US newspaper articles. The study suggests that in the US – where defamation plaintiffs face much heavier burdens than under Australian law – defamatory allegations are made more frequently against both political and corporate actors than in Australia. The US articles contained apparently defamatory allegations at nearly three times the rate of the Australian sample. In particular, the Australian media appeared to be less comfortable making allegations in relation to corporate affairs than its US counterpart. In addition, some US articles included far more extreme commentary than the Australian sample, which suggests a less restrained style of public debate may be fostered under US law. Through introducing comparative content analysis to Australian media law research, the article supports the idea that Anglo-Australian defamation law has a chilling effect media speech.”

Reform is essential, as online magazine Crikey have been saying for years.

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