Thursday, 8 March 2012

More Leveson v Finkelstein or

at least more Finkelstein. You are interested? Or perhaps you are cheering loudly at the thought that, should those recommendations be put in place, bloggers like myself will simply disappear. There will be no point in blogging. We will not be able to say what we wish to say.
Now please, do not misunderstand me. Let me make it quite clear that I strongly believe that freedom of speech carries with it certain responsibilities. The rules are simple. (1) You do not defame anyone, that is you do not "bring them into hatred, ridicule or contempt". (2) You do not incite violence. (3) You recognise that other people may not always agree with you and may do things differently. (4) You both have a right to be heard.
Right. Along comes the report by Mr Justice Finkelstein.
Finkelstein is proposing a new independent statutory body which might get called the News Media Council. It would oversee his proposals. We already have an Australian Press Council but that is run by the press itself. Oops! It is not independent enough according to Finkelstein. He wants something chaired by a retired judge or a high ranking lawyer with other equally august people seated around the table.
This has the potential to be highly political. The council would surely be controlled by the government of the day even if the people on it were "appointed for a term"?
The Australian Press Council has not done a bad job. Why change it? Yes, there is a perception it is not as independent as it should be but has it really done such a bad job? Is it just possible that there have been a few things governments would like to keep the lid on - especially recently? There was our Prime Minister's membership of a certain political organisation. It was mentioned - and it was also hushed up again pretty quickly. It seems nobody wants to continue with that story. There have been issues with the so-called carbon tax, the NBN, the BER, the pink batts scheme, the bid for a seat on the Security Council, some other things I am not free to talk about - and the Thomson affair. The Thomson affair is going nowhere although it should be. The notion that there has been no political interference in that is laughable. Of course there has been. The government needs his backside on his seat if they are to retain power. It does not take two or more years to investigate the misuse of a credit card and other offences.
If the proposed Finkelstein News Media Council was to be put in place we would learn nothing at all about the Prime Minister's membership of that organisation or of the Thomson affair. It would not be possible to put the stories out.
Ah, but what about blogs you say? They could get the message out.  Well Finkelstein proposes that they be caught up in the same net. My blog would get caught.  Any blog with more than 15,000 hits a year would get caught - that is any blog with around 300 hits a week.  The number is low enough to catch even teenage bloggers who only put a couple of dozen posts a year. We would be subject to the rulings of the proposed News Media Council.
The powers proposed for that council are so wide that they would effectively allow total control of Australian content. There is even a proposal to draw up legislation in such a way that it would catch those outside Australia who can be shown to have a strong connection with Australia.
If such powers were ever given to a group I have no doubt they would be challenged in the High Court. I have no doubt that there is a widespread belief that a challenge would succeed, that "free speech" would be preserved - probably by invoking the external affairs power. The High Court must however work within the Constitution. It cannot simply say, "this is wrong".
It will be better for us if no such case ever needs to come before the High Court. Freedom of speech needs to be preserved not reserved.

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