Tuesday, September 29, 2015
The forgotten First Amendment freedom
Freedom of the press is out of fashion across the Western world. Yet it is as important as free speech to a free society.
In the UK, the first state-backed system of press regulation for more than 300 years is about to begin – via the Royal Charter agreed by all of the political parties in a deal with the tabloid-bashing lobby Hacked Off. A new law will impose potentially punitive costs on publications that refuse to bend the knee and sign up – which so far includes all of the national press.
In the US, the First Amendment to the Constitution still prevents such legal regulation. Yet there, too, an influential lobby is pushing for greater state intervention to tame the press and media – for example, demanding that the Supreme Court afford less protection to ‘lower value’ forms of published speech, or government intervention to enforce a mandatory ‘right to reply’ on the press and even subsidise a more ‘serious’ (that is, sanitised) media.
Meanwhile, the creeping culture of You Can’t Say That seeks to impose more informal restrictions on the freedom of the press on both sides of the Atlantic.
The strange thing is that many of those who show such disdain for press freedom today would identify themselves as liberal supporters of free speech. They try to make a distinction between free speech for individuals (seen as a Good Thing) and freedom of the press (Not Necessarily So).
Those who want to separate free speech from freedom of the press only demonstrate that they don’t really support either. These two liberties are and always have been inseparable. There are good historical reasons why the First Amendment to the US Constitution has, since 1791, coupled them together to be jointly and equally protected from state interference, declaring that ‘Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press’.
From the beginning, the demand for free speech was focused on freedom of the press – which meant the printing press. The modern struggle began in earnest from the seventeenth century in Britain and then America. It was not about an abstract wish for freedom of expression, but a specific demand for an end to state control of the published word.
The precursor to the fight for free speech — the demand for freedom of conscience — was about the liberty of the individual privately to believe what he thought true, not what he was told to believe by the political and religious authorities. The demand for freedom of speech went a step further, seeking the liberty to express those beliefs and opinions in public. And how was such public freedom of expression to be made effective? Primarily through the printing press, which made it possible to popularise ideas on a wide scale for the first time.
That was why the struggle for free speech focused, first in Britain and then in the American colonies, on attempts to end the system of state licensing. These laws gave the Crown control over everything that was printed, and could send those convicted of publishing unlicensed ‘seditious libels’ that criticised the government to jail or the gallows.
In the first wave of the free-speech wars in England, those demanding freedom of the press were religious heretics who wanted first a Bible printed in English rather than Latin, and then the liberty to express their Puritan and non-conformist creed. Their clash with the censorious power of central authority soon melded into a rising political clamour for freedom of the press. As the English Civil War broke out between the king and parliament in the 1640s, the demand for freedom of the press was at the forefront of the movement for political and social change, led by the ‘revolt of the pamphleteers’. John Lilburne of the radical Levellers demanded of parliament ‘that you will open the press, whereby all treacherous and tyrannical designs may be the easier discovered, and so prevented’.
Crown licensing of the press formally ended in 1695. Yet in the late eighteenth century, English radicals such as John Wilkes were still fighting for the freedom to publish what they saw fit, criticise the king’s government and report the proceedings of parliament without the threat of being sent to the Tower. The ‘liberty of the press’, declared the front page of Wilkes’ notorious newspaper, was ‘the birthright of every Briton’.
That belief in the freedom of the press as the lifeblood of a free society spread to America. The revolutionary demand for independence from Britain took hold thanks in no small part to the radical publications that Americans had fought for the freedom to print. Looking back on these momentous events, the second US president, John Adams, reflected that the war for independence that began in 1775 was not the real revolution. That, said Adams, had been the revolution in the hearts and minds of the people, the spark for which had been pamphlets and newspapers ‘by which the public opinion had been enlightened and informed’. Freedom of the press had proved the catalyst for the creation of a free nation. Little wonder that it was to be embedded in the US Constitution by the First Amendment.
Yet today, freedom of the press is often looked down upon in high-minded liberal circles, as if it were some sort of corporate trick that only serves the interests of the major media organisations. As the British comedian turned Hollywood actor and Hacked Off frontman Steve Coogan put it, ‘Press freedom is a lie, peddled by proprietors and editors who only care about profit!’. The former funnyman was not joking. If only those heroes of history who had fought and suffered for press freedom could have had access to the wisdom of Coogan/Alan Partridge, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble. Who would want to be locked up or hanged, drawn and quartered for the sake of ‘a lie’?
The power that a few large entities can exercise over much of the established Anglo-American media is a longstanding problem, which is likely to remain until we all become billionaires or the billionaires all become socialists. It will not be improved by encouraging the state to encroach further upon the freedom of the press and the media. Indeed, it is an argument for demanding that the media be made more open and free, not less.
Freedom of speech and of the press are not only inseparable. They are also indivisible liberties, that we defend for all or none at all. You cannot start tampering with it for one group – even if the group is press barons or PR executives – and expect it to remain intact for everybody else. Once the bulwark has been breached and the cultural support for the principle of freedom is compromised, everything is called into question. And once freedom of speech and of the press is openly called into question it ceases to be a universal right and becomes a privilege to be cherry-picked.
This is not a zero-sum game, where you somehow have to decrease the rights of others in order to increase your own. Freedom of expression is not a negotiable commodity that can somehow be ‘redistributed’ away from the rich and powerful towards the rest. To infringe on the right to free speech of others can only risk undermining your own capacity to exercise it. Those who fought for freedom of the speech and of the press through history demanded the extension of those rights to the lowest and ‘the meanest’ in society, not their removal from others.
For all of its anti-elitist posturing, the current to curb press freedom is at root often a coded attack on the masses who are supposedly ‘brainwashed’ by the mass media. We are far better off defending and extending press freedom, using the new opportunities provided by web publishing, to win a bigger audience for an alternative media.
No doubt there are many imperfections with the press and the wider media today. But history suggests there is always one thing worse than a free press, and that is its opposite. It is worth remembering that nowhere in the world is the problem that the media is somehow ‘too free’. It is high time that the forgotten First Amendment freedom came back into fashion.
Marines Push Back on Women in Combat
The Marine Corps' unique position among the armed services gives it a strong argument in favor of a waiver to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s plan to remove restrictions “excluding women from assignment to units and positions whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” When the policy to include women in combat roles was first announced in 2013, the services were given a deadline of Oct. 1, 2015, to implement “gender-neutral” occupational standards and conduct studies related to the change. Any service that believed assignment of women to a particular position or specialty was detrimental could request an exemption to the policy and maintain its restriction.
The Marines plan to request a waiver based on their findings from a nine-month evaluation of the effectiveness of mixed-gender infantry units. Women were injured more frequently, were not as accurate marksmen as men, had trouble with combat duties such as removing the wounded from the battlefield and had a detrimental effect on unit cohesion. (We wouldn’t put a woman in a boxing ring with a man, so why would we throw them into combat?)
That didn’t stop Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus from opposing the waiver. He framed his opposition with the rebuttal that “the SEALs aren’t asking for one.” Given the general public’s perception of SEALs as the pinnacle of all things manly and military, this would seem to be a convincing argument. But lest anyone discount the opposition to Mabus as the work of sexist males who aren’t up with the times, a female Marine who participated in the study added that Mabus “completely rolled the Marine Corps and the entire staff that was involved in putting this [experiment] in place under the bus.”
And, in fact, Mabus' statement is the equivalent of showing us an apple to persuade us that we should like oranges.
In the unlikely event that any females survive (none has even been granted an opportunity to start at this point) the SEALs grueling rite of passage — the Basic Underwater Demolition Course or “BUDS” — the number will be so small that it will have minimal impact on the community. Not requesting a waiver is a win-win and makes sense for the SEALs. They’re seen as relatively open-minded and therefore score political points, and they incur very little risk that a significant number of females will join the teams and jeopardize readiness.
Given two female officers' successful completion of what’s viewed as the Army’s most physically demanding course — Ranger School — the Army would’ve had a difficult time persuading its civilian leadership that a waiver was warranted in its case.
This course-based approach to answering the question highlights a subtle but important distinction between the Army and Marine Corps. While the Marine Corps believes the small unit is the essential element on the battlefield and orients its training toward building esprit and cohesion within the unit, the Army’s philosophy is that unit performance will be maximized by filling it with individuals who have completed schools and earned certain qualifications — Ranger, Airborne, Sapper, etc. This is reflected in their respective uniforms: Marines — defined by their Eagle, Globe and Anchor — favor anonymity (not even requiring names to be displayed on uniforms until the 1990s) and interchangeability, while a soldier wears his credibility on his chest and sleeve. One approach is not necessarily superior to the other, and the differences make sense given the services' size and roles, but they are significant enough variables that they should be factored into the discussion.
In light of the distinctions, it’s easier to understand why the Army and Marines respectively sought to answer different questions in response to the policy. Whether other organizations are requesting an exception may be interesting, but it’s also irrelevant. Mabus' comments highlight his fundamental lack of understanding of one of the services he’s supposedly leading and should disqualify him from playing a decisive role in the exemption request process.
Then again, Mabus is merely a product of Barack Obama’s influence on the military. From rules of engagement to budget cutbacks to naming a homosexual Army secretary, Obama has had a devastating effect on military morale. And we can expect the beatings to continue until morale improves.
Australia: Mosque foes take aim at local council
The battle over Bendigo’s $3 million mosque took another menacing turn yesterday when a pro-mosque councillor found a threatening leaflet from right-wing extremist group United Patriots Front in his letterbox.
The bright red leaflet, with a picture purporting to be a Muslim holding a gun and with a big red cross through it, accuses Mayor Peter Cox and head of a not-for-profit, non-government emergency housing group Ken Marchingo of “corruption”.
Pictures of Mr Cox and Mr Marchingo are at the top of the leaflet with the words “What does corruption look like?” followed by a picture of a mosque with a large red cross through it.
“Mayor Cox & Ken Marchingo selling out Bendigo’s future,” it says under the pair’s pictures.
The leaflet also announces the details of another anti-mosque rally and a map highlighting where protesters should meet.
Pro-mosque councillor Mark Weragoda discovered the leaflet as he was mowing lawns at his home yesterday and said he took it as a “personal threat”.
“It wasn’t there on Saturday evening, so it must have been put in my letterbox overnight or early in the evening,” he said.
Mr Weragoda said none of his neighbours received the leaflet and he was concerned for the welfare of his wife and daughter, who were recently threatened during an anti-mosque protest at a heated council meeting at Bendigo Town Hall.
The meeting was abruptly adjourned and councillors were escorted out by police after protesters, most from outside Bendigo, swamped the council chambers.
The United Patriot Front is a breakaway group of extremists and a new anti-Islamic Australian group that has expressed political solidarity with far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Europe.
Bendigo residents and pro-mosque locals are outraged that members of extremist far-right groups, such as UPF, the Q society, which claims to be “Australia’s leading Islamic-critical movement”, and Reclaim Australia, have hijacked the local debate and used it to send anti-Muslim messages.
More than 400 anti-Islamic extremists were bussed into Bendigo from Sydney and Melbourne to an anti-mosque rally last month that saw violent scuffles between the anti-mosque group and an anti-racism group.
More than 300 police were sent to Bendigo for the rally in what one commander described as the biggest police operation he had seen outside of Melbourne.
Mr Weragoda believed the threatening leaflet was in response to an article in which he was named as pro-mosque published in the Weekend Magazine on Saturday that detailed the issues around the mosque debate and the involvement of right-wing extremist groups from outside town.
He said anti-mosque groups were active in trying to shut down any media seen as favourable to a mosque.
Famous Australian entertainer slams public broadcaster as Leftist
And says society has become too politically correct
Australia’s greatest comedic export, Barry Humphries, says the ABC has become an extreme left-wing broadcaster and the former prime minister Tony Abbott was correct to criticise it.
“The ABC has become increasingly left wing. Blatantly so. Indeed so has another notable Australian newspaper,” Humphries said in an interview with The Australian. “And I was surprised that they (the ABC) can be so openly of the extreme left.”
During his visits to Australia, about four times a year, his esteem for the public broadcaster has diminished, although he thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Ferguson’s The Killing Season — while suspecting the ABC produced it to ingratiate itself with the government during a difficult time in their relationship.
Humphries said the criticisms of the ABC by the former prime minister were justified.
“They were getting very worried about their relationship with the prime minister so they made this program with Rudd and Gillard to ingratiate themselves, The Killing Season, one of the best things the ABC has done,” he said.
When Humphries reads the newspapers each day, he said he becomes “steamed up” and often finds himself angrily writing a letter to the editor. But he rarely sends them in.
“Every day when I read the paper something occurs when I get steamed up or fired up, steamed up, whatever, irate and I write a letter and never send it,” he said. “I have a pile. I should publish the letters. There’ve been a few good letters of mine.”
Bureaucratic folly, stupidity in high places and sexual hypocrisy are among the things that ignite Humphries’ ire.
Reflecting on how the format of news has changed over the years, he said so had Australia’s values, and he deeply regrets the way society has become, in his view, too politically correct.
“We think we live in a liberated age but we don’t really. I mean it’s just the way these things are expressed publicly and how we wag our fingers at people, how we disapprove of them and how we’re living in an age of new puritanism,” he said.
“Things were much more liberal 20 years ago than they are today. I’m really the sworn enemy of all forms of political correctness. You can’t call something what it really is.”
Humphries was so “steamed-up” over the website New Matilda’s publication of the University of Sydney professor Barry Spurr’s racist emails that he did send that particular letter in.
In the letters to the editor page of The Australian, Humphries defended Professor Spurr, lamenting the fact Australia had lost its sense of humour.
“I did feel that this man who was engaging in rather elaborate and perhaps rather tasteless joke privately was hacked into and then excoriated,” Humphries said.
“I thought we do persecute people pretty ruthlessly in Australia. And particularly in the academic world; it’s a jungle, it’s cut throat.”
While Professor Spurr was slammed for being racist, Humphries’ view is that one should “call a spade a spade” when discussing race. Speaking of Australian teachers who instil political correctness in students, Humphries described them as: “These sort of bullies who forbid them to call a spade a spade.”
“If you look at any school magazine today, very often they are Chinese or they come from families outside Australia,” he said, while agreeing it was “wonderful” to have a multicultural society.
Humphries’ relationship with The Australian began 51 years ago, soon after the newspaper was launched and Humphries wrote a regular column in it. “My column was really about whatever happened to me during that week. Sometimes it was funny and sometimes it was terrible. I look back on it now not really with vacuous self-satisfaction but really with a kind of nostalgia for the 1960s, which is when it all happened,” he said.
“I’ve always liked the paper, our first national paper after all, and it’s still going strong. I still read it. I get it online.”
Humphries knew The Australian’s founding editor, the late Max Newton, very well. “He was rather cynical, he was an old-fashioned, hard-drinking journalist,” he said.
“Of course now they don’t smoke or drink. Max used to say all you need to be a good journalist is a Samsonite briefcase, a bottle of scotch and a gold Amex and a spare pair of underpants.”
After a long history with News Corp, Humphries agreed to be part of News Corp’s advertising campaign to promote the tablet and mobile editions of the metropolitan newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, TheCourier-Mail and The Advertiser.
His characters, Dame Eda Everage and Sir Les Patterson are prominent in the ad, created by firm Archibald Williams, and there is a cameo by model Jennifer Hawkins. It launched yesterday and will run for eight weeks on social, digital, television and print.
News Corp managing director metro and regional publishing Damian Eales said the team chose Humphries because he is a comedic icon and Dame Eda and Sir Les were national living treasures.
“They appeal to the spectrum of our readers and we were delighted they were both on hand to lend their irrepressible humour to our campaign,” he said.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.