Media reform paranoia

The reaction from the Murdoch press to the media reforms demonstrates how important it is to get some kind of content regulation underway.

I am a staunch supporter of the freedom of press – my father ended up in a Nazi concentration camp because of the lack of it. But with all rights come responsibilities. There is no doubt that the government did the worst possible job of launching the reforms, but that is no excuse for the Murdoch press to resort to the kind of reporting that appeared on the front page of the Daily Telegraph on the following day. That had nothing to do with journalism.

Nevertheless the reaction that the Minister evoked was of his own making. There should have been a wide-ranging debate on the issues, followed by a well-planned information campaign to properly inform the people what the media reforms are about.

It is also obvious from the media outcry that the press is desperate, and that it will do anything to sell copies and to protect its vested interests. They have largely missed the boat in relation to the digital economy and are anxious to deflect attention from their own failings. If they were serious about protecting freedom of the press why did they not address any of the issues? I am not even asking for a balanced perspective – although I don’t think that would be asking too much from journalists – I just want facts.

Unfortunately we have arrived at a point of political polarisation, black and white views. I saw a Facebook comment from an ex-Telstra person, saying that those who were so appalled by the article apparently could not get the joke. He saw the comparison with countries that are involved in torture and terror, and have no respect for human rights, as a joke – sorry, but I did not get that joke. Incidentally, he was the same person who used racial comments to abuse me a few years ago, when I criticised Telstra’s behaviour in the marketplace during the Sol Trujillo period. If we are, in fact, already so desensitised by the gutter press that we believe that racist commentary is appropriate material for humour, and that we can abuse anybody based on political views, sex or race, then I believe we are in dangerous waters.

There are many good elements attached to the proposed new media regulations and a close inspection does not, as Kim Williams claims, reveal an attack on the Murdoch press. Of course it would have been improper to introduce legislation aimed at just one company or one situation.

The abolition of the 75% rule makes sense, and it in no way affects News Limited. The Public Interest Media Advocate is certainly something that can be discussed rationally within the media and the broader arena; there is no reason to believe that it would lead to a limitation of the freedom of the press.

All of these issues are now so contaminated that reasonable debate is no longer possible, a very sad story indeed.

I prefer the price for freedom of information to be acceptance of objectionable personal attacks on politicians or others, as I believe that ultimately they will be the losers in a sophisticated society such as Australia. However, as we have seen with similar mob culture tactics in the past, there are plenty of people who will be willing to join the lynch parties. What troubles me is that because of this polarisation we see more and more people in the press resorting to vicious personal attacks – it looks as though people believe that, given that Tony Abbott is allowed to do it, it is acceptable. Yes, I am singling out Tony Abbott, but not without mentioning that this malaise has affected both parties.

Recently I was shocked and appalled when I saw abusive stickers of a sexual nature, directed at the Prime Minister, on the office wall of a person I respect. That is going beyond politics and the gutter press – is society as a whole sinking so low as to find behaviour like this appropriate?

Paul Budde


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