Saturday, July 16, 2011


Comments from Britain

A yen by the elite for a "controlled" press is behind the overheated attacks on Murdoch

"THIS is our Berlin Wall moment." So said The Guardian columnist George Monbiot on Wednesday, in response to Rupert Murdoch's decision to withdraw his bid for BSkyB. Other commentators have rummaged through more recent democratic upheavals to find the right words to express the momentousness of Murdoch's travails. "It's like the Arab Spring," media expert Roy Greenslade said: "Rupert Mubarak faces empire meltdown as a revolution threatens to denude him of his power."

A Liberal Democrat MP borrowed from Martin Luther King to express his giddy glee at what the phone-hacking scandal has done to the "Murdoch empire". Politicians are "free at last" from this media mogul's pressure, he said, "free like the prisoners emerging into the sunlight in Beethoven's opera, Fidelio". And in case anyone was in any doubt as to the impact of this very British revolution, socialite and journalist Jemima Khan spelled out how the world has changed forever. "I'm told Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks were refused a table at the River Cafe last night when they tried to book. Inconceivable a month ago," she tweeted.

These excitable hacks do a grave injustice to the freedom-hungry masses of yesteryear by lumping their struggles in with the media-led agitation against Murdoch. For no amount of shameless plundering of past democratic moments can disguise the fact that what we are witnessing in Britain is a media coup led by a tiny gaggle of illiberal liberals. This not a mass movement for change, still less is it something akin to the collapse of Stalinism in Europe in 1989. Rather, the anti-Murdoch moral crusade represents the convergence of various minority interests, and the biggest loser won't be Murdoch but media freedom.

So many commentators have allowed themselves to be swallowed by schadenfreude that they have lost the ability to step back and ask: what is motoring this crusade and what will its impact be?

The first nonsense notion that needs to be put to bed is that the extent to which the phone-hacking scandal has dominated media and political debate is a reflection of rocketing public disgust. There has been "a fit of public outrage", claims one reporter. Labour leader Ed Miliband even described Murdoch's decision to close the News of the World as a victory for "people power".

In truth, the public is nowhere near as exercised over these matters as the liberal media and its lapdogs in parliament are. Public polling guru Deborah Mattinson says at her most recent focus group on politics, the phone-hacking scandal "didn't even come up". In this era of recession, people have more pressing things to worry about.

In Mattinson's words, they're "more concerned about their own family finances than the Murdoch family's finances".

Descriptions of anti-Murdoch media agitation as "people power" is a see-through attempt to paint a cliquish crusade as something more dignified. What poses as a movement for moral decency against low-rent newspapers is really a collection of individuals and organisations motivated by vengeance, grubby business interests or simply a burning desire to de-fang the tabloids.

The two politicians at the forefront of the crusade are John Prescott, former Labour deputy prime minister, and Chris Bryant, Labour MP. It can't be a coincidence that both have been badly burned by Murdoch tabloids, finding their extramarital affairs (Prescott) or their penchant for posing in their Y-fronts on gay-sex websites (Bryant) splashed across their pages. Likewise, one doesn't need a degree in political science to see why Hugh Grant has transmogrified overnight from floppy-haired actor into a one-man army against tabloid hacks: he's never forgiven them for the fun they had at his expense after he indulged in certain roadside larks with a hooker in Los Angeles in 1995.

Privacy lawyers, who long to muzzle the media on behalf of wealthy clients, have also thrown in their lot with the anti-Murdoch crusade. They are licking their lips at the prospect of a shift in public opinion following the revelation that the News of the World didn't only hack celebs' phones but also murder and terror victims' phones, a shift from favouring press freedom towards favouring the superinjunctions and other medieval forms of censorship beloved of the privacy lobby.

The Guardian's agenda also isn't difficult to decipher. It has a longstanding animosity towards the "Murdoch empire", blaming it for everything from the demise of the Labour Party in the 1980s to the denigration of Britain's political culture. And The New York Times has turned this British scandal into a big issue in the US not because it is a paragon of journalistic integrity but as part of its corporate stand-off with The Wall Street Journal and other Murdoch assets in the Big Apple.

These self-interested crusaders may pose as warriors against alleged criminality in the tabloid press, but their true target is the culture of the tabloid press, the age-old arts of muckraking and sabre-rattling, which they consider vulgar and offensive. Under the guise of ending illegal phone-hacking, they're really pursuing a culture war against what they view as the ugly, mass, populist media.

So Grant won applause on BBC television's Question Time when he said "I'm not for regulating the proper press, the broadsheet press. But it is insane that the tabloid is left unregulated."

The extent to which the crusade is now about stamping out what is perceived to be an inferior form of journalism and public debate can be seen in the way that the crusaders flit between condemning alleged crimes at the News of the World to condemning the culture at it and other papers.

Indeed, following the closure of that Murdoch title, having smelled the blood of the Right, some liberal hacks turned their sights on other, non-Murdoch tabloids. Peter Wilby at The Guardian effectively told his readers-crusaders to avoid resting on their laurels and instead to turn their tabloid-hatin' attentions to the Daily Mail. "The Mail, with its suburban, curtain-twitching prurience, is in some respects worse than Murdoch's tabloids," he declared. "It has been a consistent enemy of liberal policies and it remains deeply hostile to scientists warning of global warming."

Opposed to liberal ideas? Insufficiently green? Suburban? Kill it off.

Destroy it. Send it to the same graveyard where the News of the World, scourge of highbrows everywhere, is now kicking up a stench.

After all, as Mehdi Hasan at the New Statesman put it, these are papers that "most of us had little to do with". "Most of us" is an interesting choice of phrase. He clearly isn't referring to the 7.5 million people who enjoyed reading the News of the World or the million "curtain-twitching suburbanites" who dumbly devour the Daily Mail but to his own coterie of tabloid-allergic friends and colleagues.

This cuts to the heart of the anti-Murdoch moral crusade: its pretensions of "people power", its anti-crime posturing, is a cover for its declaration of war against the culture of the "lower orders", against those rags that dare to say things that run counter to the cosmopolitan outlook of the city-centre elites.

The fallout of this cultural crusade on press freedom will be dire. Already Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to institute a new regulatory body with "more teeth" -- and presumably therefore more bite -- than the Press Complaints Commission. He is setting up an inquiry to investigate press behaviour and morality, seemingly having forgotten that it is the media's job to investigate government, not the other way round.

And more than 350 years after poet John Milton wrote an impassioned plea to the parliament of his day asking it to bring to an end the system of government licensing for newspapers, there is a serious debate about reintroducing licences for journalists, presumably to ensure that the suburban ones, who don't buy into global-warming alarmism or support "liberal policies", are kept out.

These are deeply troubling times for press freedom. The likeliest side effect of the anti-Murdoch moral crusade will be the homogenisation of the press, the straitjacketing of journalism, the enforcement of middle-class moral conformism. That is far too high a price to pay just so some celebs and politicians can get revenge on Rupert. If you agree with Milton -- that we should have "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties" -- then you should stand against this intolerant cultural tide.


“You cannot pluck the rose without the thorn”

The death of a free press, the hacking off of investigative journalism - the scandals nobody is talking about

What do you think about hacking into the phone messages of abducted teenager Milly Dowler or the relatives of other victims of murder, terrorism or war? Are you for or against it?

Personally, having weighed it carefully, I think it’s a bad thing. And so it seems does every other human being who has commented, including everybody associated with the News of the World and the detective who is said to have carried out these acts of phone-hacking for that ex-newspaper. Nobody is trying to defend the indefensible.

When everybody is repeating the same thing, particularly in tones of moral outrage, you can be pretty sure that there are other uncomfortable questions left unasked. So let us, just for a moment, talk about something else. Such as the responses to the scandal which threaten to make everything worse. You do not need to be a champion of Rupert Murdoch’s empire or a fan of the News of the World (and, despite having taken the ‘Murdoch shilling’ by writing for The Times, I am neither) to see that there are other scandals developing here, almost unchallenged. To name just a few:

The scandal of the closure of a popular newspaper being celebrated as a triumph of democracy.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the end of the News of the World was a victory for ‘people power’, and many others on the liberal left celebrated the death of their tabloid bête-noire as if they had won an election. In fact, the pressure that did for Britain’s best-selling newspaper, read by millions of actual people each Sunday for 160-odd years, was generated by a relative handful of modish journalists and online ‘activists’ (active with their typing fingers anyway). It was less a triumph for people’s democracy than a confirmation of the tyranny of the intolerant Twittertariat.

The British petit-bourgeois intelligentsia has always feared and despised mass newspapers and the vulgar throng who consume them (for the history of this elitist disdain, see John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses). More recently they have turned ‘tabloid’ into a swear word and blamed the Murdoch redtops for brainwashing the public – a convenient let-off for their own inability to win a political argument with normal newspaper readers.

Now at last they have succeeded in depriving the public of their allegedly mind-altering Sunday fix. Oh Brave New World, that does not have the News of the World in it! The illiberal liberals would only be happier if they could have extinguished Murdoch’s Sun, too. Jarvis Cocker of Pulp (great music, shame about the politics) symbolically wiped his arse with the final edition of the News of the World on stage at a music festival on Sunday. Why didn’t the sanitisation police just go the whole hog and burn the evil tabloid at the stake?

The scandal that British politics has become an arms race to see who can whip the press hardest.

Asked at the weekend what his party stands for now, the first thing Labour leader Miliband could come out with was… reform of the press. So a party of the political living dead that has abandoned any pretence of principles has finally found something to believe in. Who needs an alternative vision of the economy or the future when you can bash the tabloids?

Not to be outdone, Tory prime minister David Cameron made a big speech to announce that yes, it’s all very well for the media to ‘speak truth to power’, but it’s also important that ‘those in power can tell truth to the press’. In which case, why don’t government ministries cut out the middle men and write the newspapers themselves? They could call it the Ministry of Truth (for the history of this institution, see George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four). At any moment before last week, such an arrogantly censorious statement from a UK government would have sparked a furious press reaction. Yet so cowed have the media been by recent events that they uttered barely a whimper.

If this is what politics has become, little wonder that cries of ‘Hugh Grant for prime minister!’ have been heard on every celebrity chat and comedy show. It began with the Hollywood crusader for superinjunctions and censorship trying to act like the prime minister he played in the execrable Love, Actually. Now it looks as if Cameron and Miliband are actually trying to act like Hugh Grant.

The scandal of sectional interests posing as the ‘public interest’.

Mention of Grant should remind us that question marks hang over many of those who have recently discovered such a heartfelt concern with journalistic standards. Is Grant the moral crusader for media regulation in any way related to the posh British actor who was splashed all over the press after being caught with his pants down with a Hollywood hooker?

Has Lord John Prescott the outraged critic of the tabloids ever met the buffoonish Labour deputy prime minister who was made into an even grosser figure of ridicule by the papers’ exposure of his affair with his secretary?

Does Chris Bryant, who has toured every news studio to denounce the Murdoch press, remember the young Labour MP exposed in the press for posting pictures of himself in his underpants on a gay sex website? And so it goes on.

Ours is an age in which it often seems nobody can offer any strong opinion without being accused of acting on behalf of some ‘special interest group’ or of protecting narrow economic interests. Yet in this case the usually clear-eyed cynical commentariat appears to be suffering from collective selective amnesia, unable to see any connection between the past well-publicised antics of outraged celebrities and politicians and their sudden passion for press reform. Instead they have all been allowed a free hand to attack ‘tabloid culture’ from behind the banner of ‘the public interest’ – a standard which is not, of course, to be set by the lowly public themselves, but by high-minded journalists or the judiciary.

The scandal of the hacking down of investigative journalism.

In the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the general consensus in the political class appears to be that the British press does too much prying into other people’s business and pokes its nose where it is not wanted much too far and too often. In fact there is already far too little investigative journalism in the UK media. And the response to the hacking scandal suggests that in future there will be even less of it.

What the News of the World was alleged to have done to Milly Dowler and other victims and relatives was not, of course, journalism. As spiked pointed out from the start, it was voyeurism. The problem was not so much the phone-hacking of private information – such tactics could be justified in pursuit of a story in another situation. It was that these things were done for no purpose other than to spy on personal feelings and prey on the emotions of victims and their relatives. Such a voyeuristic attitude is not, it should be noted, entirely confined to the News of the World; all mainstream media outlets have become obsessed with reporting feelings as much as facts in recent years.

The irony is that the News of the World was also almost the only British newspaper that still put serious resources into investigating stories and making the news, rather than simply reprinting what it was handed. Its exposés of corruption and hypocrisy often dominated the following week’s news. Some of us might not always have approved of the subjects it chose to investigate. But that should surely have been a cue for more probing investigative journalism of a different stripe.

Instead there is now likely to be even less boldness in that direction in the face of the outcry about hacking – and whatever replaces the News of the World on Sundays could well be a pale imitation. In the furore about phone-hacking, it seems to have been forgotten not only that investigative journalism is crucial to public debate, but that it will always involve underhand methods, since it is about finding out what others don’t want you to know.

The scandal of a free press left to die slowly, unmourned.

This is the worst undiscussed scandal of all. The harrying to closure of the News of the World by illiberal liberals marks a milestone on the road to ruin. Yet it has been met in media circles not with outraged protests, but with the familiar mix of cynicism and naivety: cynicism that claims it is simply a ‘business decision’ by the Murdochs (as if killing your cash cow was good business), and naivety that suggests you can ‘clean up’ and regulate the tabloid press while miraculously leaving ‘good journalism’ untouched.

In reality, the more influence that ministers, judges, policemen, commissions and crusaders are able to exercise over the media, the less freedom of expression there is going to be for all. Freedom of the press, like any freedom, is not divisible. You cannot have more controls on the ‘bad’ and let the ‘good’ (whatever that might be) run free. As a wise German wrote 170 years ago, ‘lack of freedom is the real mortal danger for mankind…. [L]eaving aside the moral consequences, bear in mind that you cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with its inconveniences. You cannot pluck the rose without its thorns! And what do you lose with a free press?’

As that man Karl Marx also wrote, a ‘bad’ free press is always better than a ‘good’ controlled one - if you hope to get to the truth about politics, war, or scandals.


Rule by media in Britain

In the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown years, Rupert Murdoch's empire exploited an alternative and corrupt system of government.

When I went to work in the House of Commons as a lobby correspondent nearly 20 years ago, I assumed that the British constitution worked along the lines we had been taught in textbooks at school and university. Which is to say: Britain was a representative democracy; the police were reasonably honest; and the country was governed under the rule of law. I naively expected MPs to be honest and driven by a sense of duty, and ministers to be public-spirited.

During my first few years at Westminster, I came to appreciate that most of my assumptions were hardly true. In particular, it became clear that power had seeped away from the Commons, which had lost many of its traditional functions. It rarely held ministers to account, and ministers no longer made their announcements to the House, as Erskine May, the rulebook of Parliament, insisted they should; instead they were leaked out through journalists.

For a number of years I was a part of this alternative system of government. We would be fed information confidentially and behind the scenes, and treated as if we were more important than elected MPs.

All this was very flattering – and professionally very useful – but I couldn’t help sensing that something was wrong. It wasn’t just that the media had taken over the function of Parliament, it also meant that the traditional checks and balances no longer operated. Above all, information could be put into the public domain privately and therefore unaccountably.

All newspapers were guilty of being part of this new system, but it was exploited in particular by the Murdoch press. I believe that when Rupert Murdoch arrived on the British scene in the 1960s, he was, on balance, a force for good. The deference that still defined a great deal of political culture was challenged by Mr Murdoch, and better still he took on and defeated the print unions, which had all but destroyed the British newspaper industry in the 1970s.

But by the 1990s, Murdoch’s newspapers were starting to abuse their power. The best way of demonstrating this is perhaps by examining the career of Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International who is in such trouble this week. Her professional career is, in a number of ways, a parable for the times we have lived through.

One of the greatest adventuresses of her era, she emerged on the scene when New Labour under Tony Blair was on the verge of power. During this time she was married to Ross Kemp, the EastEnders actor who was one of the most powerful defenders of New Labour. They lived in south London, emphasising the faux-proletarian credentials that were such an important, if misleading, part of the New Labour message.

As New Labour’s star waned, Rebekah Brooks changed course. She ceased to be the cool, metropolitan figure favoured by New Labour. She moved to Oxfordshire, took up riding and became the central figure in the now notorious Chipping Norton set.

Meanwhile, her titles changed their allegiance. The political editor of the Sun might have been deemed to lack the impeccable social credentials demanded by an incoming Tory government. He was replaced by an Old Marlburian.

The identical transfiguration took place at The Times, where Phil Webster, one of the few remaining journalists in Fleet Street who has come up the hard way, was removed. Webster, who had been a favourite of the Blair government, found himself replaced as political editor by Roly Watson, who had been a member of Pop, the exclusive club at Eton, at the same time as David Cameron.

A pattern was clear. Rebekah Brooks (like all the News International insiders) attached herself like glue to whichever political party held the ascendancy.

During the Blair years, News International executives, Mrs Brooks among them, would attend the annual Labour Party conference, but they were scarcely treated as journalists. When Tony Blair gave his leadership speech, they would be awarded seats just behind the cabinet, as if they had been co-opted into the Government.

Arguably they had. The first telephone call that Blair made after he had escaped from the conference hall was routinely to Rupert Murdoch himself. And when ministers who had been favoured by the Murdoch press left office, they would be rewarded. David Blunkett and Alastair Campbell were both given columns on News International publications.

A version of this process repeated itself when Gordon Brown became prime minister, with Rebekah Brooks attending Sarah Brown’s cringe-making “pyjama party” at Chequers. It may not suit Mr Brown, who made such a passionate speech in the Commons yesterday, to remember it but he, too, was part of the Murdoch system of government. And so was David Cameron, who last October threw a party for his closest friends to celebrate his 44th birthday. Reportedly everyone present had known the Prime Minister all his adult life – with the exception of Mrs Brooks.

There was a very sinister element to these relationships. At exactly the same time that Mrs Brooks was getting on so famously with the most powerful men and women in Britain, the employees of her newspapers (as we now know) were listening in to their voicemails and illicitly gaining access to deeply personal information.

One News of the World journalist once told me how this information would be gathered into dossiers; sometimes these dossiers were published, sometimes not. The knowledge that News International held such destructive power must have been at the back of everyone’s minds at the apparently cheerful social events where the company’s executives mingled with their client politicians.

Let’s take the case of Tessa Jowell. When she was Culture Secretary five years ago, News International hacked into her phone and spied on her in other ways. What was going on amounted to industrial espionage, since Ms Jowell was then charged with the regulation and supervision of News International, and the media group can scarcely have avoided discovering commercially sensitive information, even though its primary purpose was to discover details about Ms Jowell’s private life.

Yet consider this: Ms Jowell was informed of this intrusion at the time and said nothing. More curious still, she retained her friendship with Rebekah Brooks and other News International figures. Indeed, Ms Jowell appears to have been present at the Cotswolds party thrown by Matthew Freud, son-in-law of Rupert Murdoch, only 10 days ago.

James Murdoch, heir apparent to the Murdoch empire, was also present. These parties were, in effect, a conspiracy between the British media and the political class against the country as a whole. They were the men and women who governed Britain and decided who was up and who was out. Government policy was influenced and sometimes created. I doubt very much whether Britain would have invaded Iraq but for the foolhardy support of the Murdoch press.

The effect on government policy was wretched. Decisions were determined by consideration of the following day’s headlines rather than sound analysis. Furthermore, private favours were dispensed; Blair when prime minister spoke to his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi about one of Murdoch’s business deals in Italy.

Of course it was all kept secret, though details did sometimes leak out. All recent prime ministers have insisted that their meetings with Murdoch were confidential and did not need to be disclosed, as if they were somehow private affairs. Mercifully, Cameron – who has partially emerged from the sewer thanks to his Commons statement – has put an end to this concealment.

It has taken the horror of the revelations concerning the targeting by the Murdoch empire of the family of Milly Dowler, terrorist victims and even relatives of British war dead to bring this corrupt, complicit, and conspiratorial system of government to light.

The process of exposure has taken far too long, but there is at last hope. Two years ago, Rebekah Brooks contemptuously turned down an invitation to give evidence to MPs about how she operated. Next week, Rupert Murdoch, his son James and the reluctant Brooks will all be dragged before them.

The system of collaboration between an over-mighty press and timorous politicians is being exposed. There is hope that we can return to a more decent system of government; that Parliament can reassert its rights, and that ministers will make their decisions for the right reasons and not simply to ingratiate themselves with Murdoch and his newspaper editors. Perhaps the sickness that has demeaned and distorted British politics for the last two decades is at last being challenged and confronted.



Comments from Australia

Gillard and Brown are both trying to shoot the messenger

The push by Bob Brown and Julia Gillard for a parliamentary inquiry into the media is so cynical, manipulative and transparently biased that if we really were as evil as they believe we’d congratulate them both for joining the dark side.

We're useless! Let's blame News Ltd!We're useless! Let's blame News Ltd!

Both leaders are seeking to establish a connection in the public’s mind between the obscene and illegal practices exposed in the UK and perfectly conventional and legitimate journalism and commentary in Australia with which they just happen to disagree.

It is extraordinary both how blatantly they have hijacked the issue and how seamlessly the more naïve and ideological sections of the community have followed them to this at best offensive and at worst dangerous illogicality.

The UK phone tapping scandal is about a British newspaper or newspapers engaging in illegal activity against ordinary citizens, most disgracefully, in some cases, the victims of crime.

This is now being used as justification by the Prime Minister and Senator Brown for a parliamentary inquiry into the local media. But why?

Do they have any evidence of phone tapping here? No.

Do they have any evidence of illegal activity here? No.

Do they even accuse reporters of behaving in a dishonest fashion or employing dishonest practices to obtain information here? No.

Yet still Brown wants an inquiry into media practices and ethics here.

That, it appears, is Australian journalists’ reward for not engaging in dirty and unscrupulous practices and generally being fairly decent types: A McCarthy-esque fishing expedition based on not a shred of evidence. Not even an allegation.

This absurd logic is the equivalent of police officers walking up to random people in the street and forcing them to prove they are not criminals.

And how will it work? Will rumpled press gallery scribes be dragged from their beds to testify which politicians they were drinking with the night before? Who said what? What was on or off the record? Will they have to give up sources? Expose whistleblowers? Will they, as Senator Joe encouraged so enthusiastically in the 50s, have to name names?

And of course media ownership will be scrutinised. And why is that again? Were the dodgy practices engaged at News of the World caused by concentration of media ownership? Er, no.

In fact the running theory as to why such dirty tricks were employed is that competition in the UK newspaper market is so fierce and so cutthroat that papers would resort to anything to get the edge on their rivals – even those in the same stable.

So no, it’s not that there’s any indication of dodgy behaviour or that media ownership has caused dodgy behaviour, so what is it? Why are we having this inquiry again?

Well gosh, no one can really say. But there might be a teeny-weeny clue in the fact that Brown describes the Murdoch press as “hate media” and that Gillard this week told the press gallery: “Don’t write crap.”

Now it’s one thing for a politician to point to a news report or editorial or opinion piece and say “that is crap” and tell the world why, but it’s a tad chilling when a Prime Minister instructs reporters not to “write crap” in the middle of a debate about a new regulatory framework to govern the media. Who’s going to enforce that edict? The Ministry of Truth?


Anti-Murdoch politicians can't stand the heat

David Flint

I AM no toady of the Murdoch empire. Its newspapers were tough on me in the years leading up to the republican referendum.

I remember The Courier-Mail saying the only reason people took any notice of what I said was not the content but the fact I was chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority.

On one occasion I wrote an open letter to Lachlan Murdoch dissenting from his position on the referendum. It didn't exactly win me plaudits in News Limited newspapers but, to their credit, they published it.

Later, when John Laws mistakenly thought I was behind moves against him at the ABA, some key News Limited opinion writers jumped gleefully on to that bandwagon. The point, of course, is no public figure should complain when the media applies the blowtorch. As the saying goes, "If you don't like the heat, don't go into the kitchen."

I mention this only to point out I don't owe the Murdoch empire anything. Like many readers I have often disagreed with its papers' editorial line. I thought their campaign against the Whitlam government was too one-sided and that they obsessively magnified any small error of judgment by the Howard government.

The Australian's support of Kevin Rudd in the 2007 election was particularly inexplicable. The paper was committed to labour market deregulation but everyone knew Rudd and Julia Gillard were not only going to wipe out Work Choices, they were going to take labour market regulation back to before the Hawke and Keating governments.

More recently, I think The Australian's support of the carbon dioxide tax on the basis of the so-called precautionary principle and on the primacy of market solutions misses the point. This is not a real market but an artificial construct concocted by bureaucrats and academics to be rorted by merchant bankers.

In the meantime Sky News Australia, unlike the US Fox News which is screamingly right wing, is to the left even of the ABC. A typical example: on July 15, who did it choose to comment on the carbon tax? Two well-known supporters of the tax, John Hewson and Graham Richardson, with a sympathetic interviewer. And although The Daily Telegraph is doing a sterling job in exposing politicians of all sides, its prominent photo column Street Talk seems to meet mainly left-wing people.

The point is News Limited is not a monolith with opinions settled centrally by Rupert Murdoch as a latter-day Lenin. It is richly diverse, more so than the ABC or Fairfax Media. And while Murdoch is no saint, he has done great things for the media. His move to Wapping saved the British press from the slow death to which the print union bosses had sentenced it. His creation of a national Australian newspaper was visionary.

But with the emergence of the latest anti-Murdoch bandwagon I smell not one rat but two.

Let me say the phone hacking indulged in by the News of the World and possibly other British newspapers is reprehensible.

But why were the latest revelations withheld until News International's bid to take over BSkyB was almost put to bed? Why were they leaked to a left-wing opposition newspaper?

This inspired some weak British politicians suddenly to find sufficient courage to challenge the bid. Now some Australian politicians who've been subject to perfectly legitimate attention in the Murdoch media are jumping on the News of the World bandwagon with demands that Murdoch be investigated here and possibly curtailed or even punished.

Wheeled out to defend the carbon tax, Paul Keating is calling for the immediate enactment of a privacy law. But there is no pattern in Australia of massive intrusion by the Murdoch media into the private lives of public figures. In fact the last significant improper media intrusion that I can recall was that of a Fairfax newspaper into the private life of Richard Pratt, who died in 2009.

I was chairman of the Australian Press Council for 10 years and after that chairman of the ABA for six. I cannot recall one occasion when a journalist alleged they had been directed by Murdoch to do something illegal or unethical. That included journalists who no longer worked for News.

When I was at the Press Council I did oppose a proposal that we support the establishment of a special press takeovers tribunal to stop Murdoch's takeover of the Herald and Weekly Times. This was not to favour Murdoch; my argument was this was a matter for the general competition law and there shouldn't be a special competition law or government tribunal for newspapers. The last thing we should ever do is give politicians any greater control over speech than they have, for it will be used only to restrict it.

For years defamation law was abused, mainly by politicians, to stop the investigation of matters of legitimate public interest.

And when Canadian Conrad Black asked for permission to increase his share in Fairfax to make it defensible against hostile takeovers, a political condition was put on it. If a privacy law were enacted the principal beneficiaries would be politicians with something to hide.

The point is some politicians who can't stand being challenged are now hoping they can use the News of the World debacle to nail the Murdoch newspapers, especially The Australian and The Daily Telegraph. No doubt they also hope to silence, or at least intimidate, talkback radio.

The problem for the Prime Minister and Greens leader Bob Brown is they are failing -- monumentally -- to explain what most people find inexplicable. In Gillard's case this is exacerbated by the fact most Australians have stopped listening to her because they think she lies.

The answer for both of them is more speech, not taking away freedom of speech and of the press.

The last thing we need are more laws or inquiries. What we need is good limited government and, if they can't give us that, an early election.


Feds backing off a witchhunt into the Oz media

THE government has moved to downplay the scope of any inquiry into the Australian media, instead putting an overhaul of privacy laws back on the agenda.

As Greens leader Bob Brown stepped up his calls for an investigation into local media ownership and regulation in the wake of the British phone-hacking scandal, Tony Abbott warned that threats of an "inquiry into the media when it is reporting the government's difficulties marketing a new tax smacks of official persecution".

The Opposition Leader said there was "no evidence -- none -- that the Australian media have engaged in any of the practices that rightly closed a UK publication".

"Politicians criticising the media resemble footballers criticising the referee. The media rightly hold us to account and we have to take the rough with the smooth, the fair with the over-the-top when it comes to media outlets' news judgment and commentary," Mr Abbott, a former journalist, told The Weekend Australian.

Senator Brown is yet to discuss his push for an inquiry with Julia Gillard or Mr Abbott. However, his call for full-scale investigation won the backing of federal independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said he was confident Australia's telephone interception laws were already strong enough.

He also ruled out government regulation of media ethics. "I think it's a very important aspect of democracy to have an independent and robust media and there'll be no suggestion of the government regulating the media," he said. "However, it may well be that there is an appropriate dialogue between the community and the various press councils and electronic media organisations."

The Prime Minister left the option open on Thursday to consider a parliamentary inquiry into Australian print and broadcast companies, but Wayne Swan said yesterday he did not believe an inquiry was needed into whether Australian journalists were involved in phone-hacking practices.

John Hartigan, the chairman and chief executive of News Limited, the publisher of The Weekend Australian, said this week he was "hugely confident that there's no improper or unethical behaviour in our newsrooms".

The Treasurer said he accepted Mr Hartigan's statements that News Limited was not engaged in these practices. "I think it's good to have a healthy debate about the quality of journalism, about ethics, and I'll leave it at that," he said.

But he used the debate over the media to take aim at News Limited's The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, accusing it of campaigning against a carbon tax.

"It's their right to do that, but they can't pretend that the coverage is balanced when all they do is oppose a price on carbon continuously and include that in their coverage in a way which isn't balanced," Mr Swan said.

Senator Brown is also pushing for Australians' right to privacy to be enshrined in the law, and the government has placed the issue back on the agenda.

Mr McClelland said it was "inevitable" that the Australian Law Reform Commission's review of privacy would be revisited. The ALRC recommended in 2008 that courts should have the power to make an order for damages, an injunction or an apology in cases where individuals suffered a serious invasion of privacy.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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