The facets of Australian fascism: the Abbott Government experiment (Part 31) – By Dr George Venturini

By Dr George Venturini*

Testing the thesis . . . A controlled mass media (continued)

The media and the ‘entertainment’ industry’s important tasks are the coercion and indoctrination of the population from early childhood. Most successive governments of both available hues are timorous of doing anything to guarantee freedom of the press and information for fear of losing Murdoch’s support come election time. If all else fails, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats are put to work.

Some constraint to such power might have been tried by introducing regulations which forbid holding more than two media outlets – whether print, radio or television – in a single area. The latest timorous experiment was tried in 2007; it failed and nothing has been done since.

The Howard Government ‘discovered’ in the Internet a new source of diversity, and a pretext for doing nothing. The reasoning is fallacious, and demonstrably so: Internet may be an alternative source of information, but is not accessible to everyone and cannot be regarded as a competitive force against the oligopolistic power of corporations such as News Corp.

Almost by way of definition, concentration of the power of information in a few hands is the antinomy of democracy.

The profession of journalism has been so discredited by owners such as Murdoch in Australia, or Berlusconi in Italy, and other mono/oligopolists elsewhere, that work at a newspaper now is – by and large – no more than an ultimate exercise in public relations. Very often the printed press reports nothing more than what is concocted by public relations corporations.

Some Australian political representatives may occasionally complain about the tyranny of the 24 hour news-cycle, but most of them have adjusted to the ‘new reality’ and almost all of them have made it a dutiful part of their anointment to go in pilgrimage to New York and dine or sup with Murdoch. Rudd did it, and Gillard followed the ritual in March 2011. Abbott is ‘family’. Upon their return they settle down at the place designed by ‘The System’, and the ‘spin’ begins in earnest.

Objectivity does not exist in corporate media, and ‘free speech’ is free if the ruling élite likes it. While the rhetoric of ‘free media’ is prevalent in most ‘western’ countries, a culture of censorship – if not self-censorship – is widespread even by the most ‘independent’ and ‘alternative’ media outlets.

Good journalism, a very honourable profession in different times, is very demanding. It calls for dedication, wide and continuing education, effort, time and money. Except for money, holding the other elements is not necessary and could provide an unemployment card for many aspiring journalists. The last thing a Fascist regime would want is the type of journalism which has the dignity of an old profession, cares about the facts, is capable of distinguish them from propaganda, and talks the truth to power.

According to Reporters Without Borders, in 2016 Australia was in twenty-fifth position – down from nineteenth in 2010 – on a list of countries ranked by Press Freedom, well behind the first six: Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Costa Rica, quite behind Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Jamaica, Austria, Slovakia, Belgium, Estonia, Luxembourg, Germany, Namibia, Canada, Iceland, Uruguay, Czech Republic, Surinam, Portugal and Latvia – and thirteen steps above the United Kingdom, and sixteen above the United States. The ranking is somewhat affected by the limited diversity in media ownership. The problem has even created a show in itself – Media Watch on the government funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is one of two government administered commercial channels, the other being Special Broadcasting Service. (2016 World Press Freedom Index – leaders paranoid about journalists‘).

Most of the movement in the World Press Freedom Index unveiled by Reporters Without Borders is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.

The 2016 World Press Freedom Index reflects the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the previous year.

Published annually by Reporters Without Borders since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index is an important advocacy tool based on the principle of emulation between states. Because it is now so well known, its influence over the media, governments and international organisations is growing. The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom which measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a questionnaire in 20 languages which is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.

The Index is not an indicator of the quality of the journalism in each country, nor does it rank public policies even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking.

Seen as a benchmark throughout the world, the Index ranks 180 countries according to the freedom enjoyed by journalists. It also includes indicators of the level of media freedom violations in each region. These show that Europe – with 19.8 points, still has the freest media, followed distantly by Africa – 36.9 points, which for the first time overtook the Americas – 37.1 points, a region where violence against journalists is on the rise. Asia – 43.8 points and Eastern Europe/Central Asia – 48.4 points follow, while North Africa/Middle East – 50.8 is still the region where journalists are most subjected to constraints of every kind.

Three north European countries head the rankings. They are Finland – ranked 1st, the position it has held since 2010, Netherlands – 2nd, up 2 places, and Norway – 3rd, down 1 place. The countries which rose most in the Index include Tunisia – 96th, up 30, thanks to a decline in violence and legal proceedings, and Ukraine – 107th, up 22, where the conflict in the east of the country abated.

The countries which fell farthest include Poland – 47th, down 29, where the ultra-conservative government seized control of the public media, and – much farther down –  Tajikistan, which plunged 34 places to 150th as a result of the regime’s growing authoritarianism. The Sultanate of Brunei – 155th, down 34, suffered a similar fall because gradual introduction of the Sharia and threats of blasphemy charges have fuelled self-censorship. Burundi – 156th, down 11, fell because of the violence against journalists resulting from President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested re-election for a third term. The same “infernal trio” are in the last three positions: Turkmenistan – 178th, North Korea – 179th and Eritrea – 180th.“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism.” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests.

Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests. Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved.”

The latest Report noted, under the heading: Refugees off limits, that Australia has good public media but print media ownership is heavily concentrated. Two media groups – News Corporation (owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch) and Fairfax Media – are responsible for 85 per cent of newspaper sales. Overall, the media enjoy a great deal of freedom although protection of journalists’ sources varies from state to state. Coverage of Australia’s refugee detention centres on Manus Island – off Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Ocean island of Nauru is nonetheless restricted. New laws in 2014 and 2015 provide for prison sentences for whistleblowers who disclose information about conditions in the refugee centres or operations by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

 

Here are the data of press freedom ranking in 2016
          Global score Diff. score 2015 Diff. Position 2015

 

  Ranking  Country Abuse score Underlying situation score Global score Diff. score 2015 Diff. Position 2015
  1 Finland 0 8.59 8.59 -1.07 0
  2 Netherlands 0 8.76 8.76 0.46 2
  3 Norway 0 8.79 8.79 -1.04 -1
  4 Denmark 0 8.89 8.89 -0.65 -1
  5 New Zealand 0 10.01 10.01 0.05 1
  6 Costa Rica 0 11.10 11.10 1.16 10
  7 Switzerland 0 11.76 11.76 2.09 13
  8 Sweden 0 12.33 12.33 -2.86 -3
  9 Ireland 0 12.40 12.40 -1.20 2
  10 Jamaica 0 12.45 12.45 -1.27 -1
  11 Austria 0 13.18 13.18 -2.33 -4
  12 Slovakia 0 13.26 13.26 -1.60 2
  13 Belgium 13.86 14.18 14.18 -2.20 2
  14 Estonia 0 14.31 14.31 -3.12 -4
  15 Luxembourg 0 14.43 14.43 -0.82 4
  16 Germany 37.14 9.21 14.80 -3.33 -4
  17 Namibia 6.93 15.15 15.15 -2.65 0
  18 Canada 0 15.26 15.26 -4.27 -10
  19 Iceland 0 15.30 15.30 -1.43 2
  20 Uruguay 0 15.88 15.88 0.06 3
  21 Czech Republic 0 16.66 16.66 -5.04 -8
  22 Surinam 0 16.70 16.70 1.50 7
  23 Portugal 0 17.27 17.27 -0.16 3
  24 Latvia 0 17.38 17.38 0.74 4
  25 Australia 6.93 17.84 17.84 -0.81 0

 

Tomorrow: Testing the thesis . . . Obsession with national security

GeorgeVenturini* In memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975 he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra. He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.

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