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What’s Happening to Our Democracy?

In previous blogs I have bemoaned the fact that many public debates are being stifled by the fact that some minority groups with particular vested interests seek to have their particular points of view from being challenged by indulging in pseudo acts of self-suffering which they term “taking offense”. That in itself is a curb, in my belief, on legitimate free speech and informed debate which is a fundamental underpinning of our democracy.

It seems that another underpinning of our democracy might now also be under threat, viz. the freedom of the press. In a cynical response supposedly to the illegal phone tapping episodes by the press in the UK, the Federal Government commissioned the Finklestein media inquiry. There of course is no evidence of such malpractice by the Australian media. My concern is that the inquiry was largely instigated to quell criticism of the government in the press.

The Finklestein report purports to address:

1. “Obsessive attempts to influence government policy by day after day repetition of issues.”
2. “Opposition to government policy which is commercially driven.”
3. “Treating expert and lay opinion as being of equal value or deliberately selecting opinions opposed to government policy while ignoring opposite views.”

The underlying premise of the report is that average Australians have no capacity to judge for themselves and a benevolent and all-knowing government is required to shield us from hearing or seeing that which might be beyond our poor capacity to interpret and understand.

In a telling opinion piece in the Weekend Australian, Brendan O’Neill made the case that a principal tenet of democratisation is providing unfettered information to the citizenship and letting them come to their own conclusions.

He concluded his article with this statement:

“Where you stand on press freedom reveals where you stand on democracy itself, on reason, Enlightenment and progress.

And if the current indifference to press freedom is anything to go by, then it seems our ‘betters’ in the here and now don’t only distrust the tabloids, they also distrust man himself, seeing us as unreasonable creatures who need perhaps a king or at least a QC to govern our lives.”

So here again is another deficit, deficiency or whatever that we require governments to ameliorate for us. (Did George Orwell write this script?)

Is there any wonder that our society is pervaded by victimhood and assumed helplessness?

Cassandra Wilkinson in a recent article quoted Sir Robert Menzies. (Disclaimer here: I am not a particular fan of Robert Gordon Menzies but this is something worth contemplating.)

“The great vice of democracy is that for a generation we have been busy getting ourselves on to the list of beneficiaries.”

Yes sure there are very deserving beneficiaries of government assistance. And I suppose too there might even be some folk who need to be shielded from material that is either beyond their comprehension or could subvert them (like if you were less than eight years old or had an IQ less than 80) but how dare the government constrain what I might read or what I might view on the assumption that I don’t have the intellect to make reasonable judgment about its veracity or be able to ascertain the political motives behind its content.

Perhaps the government can take advice from the People’s Daily and teach Australian newspapers how to write quaint stories about the herculean efforts of our workers and make grateful recognition of the wondrous attributes of our glorious leaders?

Wayne Swan has been particularly vitriolic about the utterances of Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest. Every person with half a brain knows that such folk will argue in favour of the Mining Industry and against the mining resource rental tax. In the same vein we know the Farmer’s Federation will lobby for the maintenance of prime farming land in the face of the efforts of the Coal Seam Gas industry. The Greens will lobby against forestry interests in Tasmania and the Catholic Church will lobby against abortion. This is the nature of a democracy and what has stood it in good stead is that the average citizen understands that many of those raising their voices in public forums have their own axes to grind.

The current government seems unduly sensitive to criticism. Its high office holders have denigrated for example those who don’t agree with them about the carbon tax or the validity of global warming. They have also been particularly sensitive to claims that some of the huge expenditure justified by its response to the GFC might have been wasteful.

In some of these more difficult debates the proponents often believe it is enough to merely denigrate their opponents but not to address their arguments. This to me is an indication of intellectual cowardice. It enables a protagonist to sidestep the argument by belittling their opponent. Oftimes the prime defence is merely to attack the motives of those who disagree with us. How much better might our democracy be if we actually debated the ideas rather than vilify the one who delivers the ideas.

The government is keen to point out the ulterior motives of particular vested interests (as for example the mining magnates mentioned above). Unfortunately they seem to be selective about which vested interest groups should be vilified. There is, for example, no criticism of the union movement. This vested interest group has influenced the government to reregulate the workforce, reducing productivity and flexibility, and taking us back to the dysfunctional industrial relations regime of the seventies – before the Hawke and Keating Governments began removing the stultifying restrictions of awards and instigating enterprise bargaining. Could this particular blind spot be ignored because the lobbying of this particular vested interest largely helped them defeat the Howard government?

When all is said and done the biggest vested interest group is the government itself. It has huge resources at its disposal and unashamedly uses them to support the government’s political line. And of course this is not a trait of this particular government alone. As far as I can tell the Finklestein report doesn’t recommend a mechanism to shelter we undiscerning public from these sinister influences!

Let us then resist the inclination of a patronising and overly sensitive government from in any way curtailing our basic freedoms, including those of free speech and the freedom of the press, lest our democracy be further eroded away.

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  1. 11 Comment(s)

  2.   By Dave Bowman on Mar 25, 2012 | Reply

    Ted, Hear! Hear! It would appear that the voters of Qld did exercise their democratic rights despite liberal doses of the mailaise you speak of in your blog.

    Regds

    Dave

  3.   By The Venerable Father Robin on Mar 25, 2012 | Reply

    ‘Our Democracy’ is another oxymoron.

  4.   By Greg Brown on Mar 25, 2012 | Reply

    I am sure there are intentional cases of bias in the press but I can’t help thinking that the majority of journalists genuinely believe they are reporting the facts without favor. They are human though, so like all of us, interpret the world based on their values. Not only that but the public tends to choose the publications that are consistent with their own world view as well. Net result the media will seem biased to almost any observer simply because of their own bias.

    There is another aspect to this that I think is worth mentioning. The world is more complex today and it gets more complex all the time. It is impossible for anyone to be sufficiently knowledgeable to form a reasoned opinion on all issues and sadly most people are not knowledgeable enough to form a reasoned opinion on the majority of big issues facing society today. People in the main also seem to have very short term views and the big issues are almost always long term. In this environment I can’t help thinking that democracy is not as effective at driving forward societal development as it perhaps was in simpler times.

  5.   By Roger Bates on Mar 25, 2012 | Reply

    Your claim that ” There of course is no evidence of such malpractice by the Australian media. “when referring to UK telephone tapping”
    while technichally correct in that there is no evidence that News Ltd. & other Australians tapped UK telephones, is misleading. The evidence of corruption of Australian newspapers is in false records of Aust. newspapers that are sold as archives from Australian libaries. They have also been exported to the UK. Minor examples are Adelaide SA’s Advertiser newspaper front page headlines May 1989 “State Bank $200 Mill Loan to equiticoprp NZ”, Feb. 1991 “Billion Dollar Bailout” and “Bank Documents Shredded” erased from the public records. National & international consumer fraud that law enforcemment conceals. Your claims of the moral & ethical superiority of Australian newspapers and journalism relative to the foreign press, are inaccurate and misleading. Australian newspapers decline to comment or deny the claims of corruption that the APC claims to be incapable of investigating in correspondence declining to accept complaints. Australia has been unsupervised for too long and has no authority with the independence required to investigate Australia’s organised crime & corruption. United Kingdom investigators authorised by Aust. Head of the Constitution Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, need to investigate Australian corruption on behalf of Australian and UK citizens victims of crimes & corruption. Documented evidence and indicators of Australian news media corruption has been made available to Australian law enforcement authorities whom conceal corruption on behalf of others.
    No one seriously believes that Australian news media is not and has never been corrupt. The evasions of the evidence by law enforcement (Police, ACCC etc.), the conspicious absence of public comment by Australian police, and the publishing by newspapers of information that is known to be false such as ” News media helps keep authorities accountable.” and
    “There is no evidence that any such serious breaches of the law and media ethics have occurred in Australia.*” from those who know otherwise are indications of corruption.
    The APC claims that the author was referring specifically to “Milly Dowler’s phone hacking” & not intending to create the impression that he was claiming that Australian media is corruption free, just innocent of that particualr crime.
    Documents that I can provide you include the amazing ACCC and APC responses to the evidence of fake records of Australian newspapers sold as archives from Australian libraries and more. Please respond.
    Regards Roger J. Bates 26.3.12
    Australians have a right to know the truth, even though it will destroy their confidence in Australia’s news media and cause foreigners to to laugh at us.

  6.   By Peter Dowling on Mar 26, 2012 | Reply

    Well said Ted. It is certainly true that the best resourced interest group is a Government seeking re election – yes even better resourced than the miners and Governments use our money! But it still amazes me when that great amorphous mass called an electorate decides they are being had and acts almost as one – just ask Anna Bligh. In these circumstances all pretense that the press tell us what to think disappears and the press turns to polls to find out what we are thinking so they can write about it. We really do actually run the show when it counts!

  7.   By Geoff Higgins on Mar 26, 2012 | Reply

    I do not need the Government to protect me from being ill-informed. With the plethora of media outlets available for me to peruse, I can find one that agrees with me every time I go looking.

    …Geoff

  8.   By Geoff Higgins on Mar 26, 2012 | Reply

    Are you perhaps suggesting a return to benevolent dictatorship Greg?

  9.   By The Venerable Father Robin on Mar 27, 2012 | Reply

    Just make sure you elect the right dictator.

  10.   By Greg Brown on Apr 2, 2012 | Reply

    What can I say Geoff, you have caught me out I do like the benevolent dictatorship model. Just have not been able to find a benevolent dictator we can trust to stay benevolent.

    Roger, you are probably right I am too trusting and pretty ignorant on such things. Still can’t help thinking that most journalists really do want to report the facts. There methods of discovering the facts though are perhaps a tad unethical … or down right illegal!

  11.   By The Venerable Father Robin on Apr 2, 2012 | Reply

    A ‘benevolent dictator’ would receive no income from their position.

  12.   By Ted Scott on Apr 3, 2012 | Reply

    Greg reminded me recently that I used to say that I believed in benevolent dictatorship provided that I was the beneveolent dictator!

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