Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Leveson v Finkelstein

Anyone reading this in the United Kingdom will be aware of the Leveson Inquiry and the reasons for it. Australians will also be aware of it. What readers in both places will be less aware of is that Australia has also had a media inquiry of sorts.
I say "of sorts" because it was not nearly as public. The 'phone hacking scandal in th UK was used as an excuse to move towards doing something our present Federal Government has long wanted to do, gain greater control of the media. They already have control the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). Not only do the funding arrangements see to that but the ABC has, over the years, had any number of journalists and presenters who have made no secret of their political affiliations. One long-time presenter of the 7:30 Report, now retired, made blatant use of his position to support the left side of politics. Others are more careful - and perhaps more dangerous because of it.
The Press Gallery in Canberra is also left leaning. Again, they make no secret of that. Labor governments have a much easier time of it with the press than Coalition governments. The Press Gallery is about contacts. The left has a largely left leaning "Australian Public Service" behind it.
If then the media is criticising the government it is not just about making news. It is because the media believes there really is something to criticise, even on their own side of politics.
Of course not all journalists and commentators are left leaning. There are some who lean just as far the other way. Nevertheless there are fewer of them and they get less space on the page and time on the air.
Why then did the government want an inquiry?
Part of it was to do with the fact that they are absolutely dependent on the Greens to get legislation through the Senate. The Greens believe they have been given a very hard time by the media. (It may be that, even for the left-leaning media mob, some of the Greens policies are just too extreme.)
The leader of the Greens gets plenty of air time. His opinion is sought almost as readily as that of the Prime Minister. In some circles he is regarded as "the power behind the throne" and even some members of the left hope he will eventually be "the power behind the thrown" instead.
The Greens want to see much greater media control. A Labor government would like it if they could get it without people being too aware of what was happening. The Greens would not merely like it, they are determined to have it.
The government also feels it has been given a hard time. Policies have been criticised. Broken promises, particularly big ones like the carbon tax, have been criticised. The behaviour of some MPs, including the Prime Minister, has been scrutinised.  It would happen to any government but this one is particularly vulnerable. It is a minority government. It relies on "independents" to remain in power. It did not have a majority of voters on side when it took office.  There is a serious question of probity hanging over one MP and the government has, despite protestations to the contrary, managed to delay a report into the findings against him. If he needed to resign then the government would almost certainly go with him.
The media, aware that the government came perilously close to losing office a short while ago, has now rallied around it again. The Prime Minister is now being shown as another version of "the Iron Lady". Her appointment of an outsider as Foreign Minister is being praised.
It will be interesting to see what is done about the Finkelstein Report...


JO said...

Interesting that you have a 'left-leaning' press.

Ours in the UK is distinctly the other way, with only one broadsheet paper (The Guardian) to stand out on the left - and it was The Guardian which has consistently teased away at this, and exposed not only the extent to which phones have been hacked, but also some uncomfortable links between News International, the police, and senior politicians.

We'll wait to see if Leveson changes things in the long term but this inquiry is vital if the extent and implications of such links is to be understand.

Anonymous said...

Definitely left leaning Jo. All the "Fairfax" group is left. The "Murdoch" group should be right but actually has so many left wingers on staff that it leans left - alhough it is at least peppered a little with several slightly right wing columnists.
The ABC is well and truly left although its charter means it should be neutral. SBS (the multicultural service) leans left too.
The Press Gallery in Canberra tends to be well and truly left! Chris

catdownunder said...

Chris is right Jo. The national newspaper "The Australian" is considered "right wing" by the left but it is, at best, fairly middle of the road. It has some right wingers on the staff but the general reporting favours the left, as do many of the regular columnists. Although they keep screaming "not fair" and "bias" the current Labor government has had excellent support from the media. It would not have lasted this long without it!

JO said...

So - something else that is very different in the UK!