The survival of any democracy is completely dependent on the survival of a ‘free media’ that are not constrained to publish only what the government wants. Over the past decade, media freedom has deteriorated all around the world as populist demagogues have attempted to throttle independent media. While this is concerning everywhere, it is most concerning where it impacts on democracy. As soon as the content of the media is in any way controlled by the government or their supporters, then democracy is finished.
Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary and Aleksandar Vučić’s administration in Serbia have snuffed out critical journalism. The leader of Austria’s far right ‘Freedom Party’, who was until recently part of the ruling coalition, has been caught on video attempting to collude with Russians to purchase the nation’s largest national newspaper to achieve positive coverage. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu faces corruption charges for offering regulatory favours to two major media companies in exchange for favourable coverage. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in India has supported campaigns that discourage speech that is “antinational” and government-aligned thugs have raided homes and offices of journalists who have been critical of the government. The media have become widely flattering of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won re-election last month, amid allegations that the government issues directives on how the press should cover his activities while it intimidates journalists who are critical of him. The government has also been selective in the allocation of television licenses, effectively excluding unfriendly outlets from the airwaves. Perhaps the most concerning is in the United States, where there is the continuous abuse heaped upon the main news organisations of the United States by the idiotic Trump. Fortunately, the United States’ constitution provides robust protections against Trump doing anything concrete against these media organisations1.
Despite all these appalling developments elsewhere, I hope you will excuse my cynicism over the various Australian newspapers having redacted front pages, as a way of protesting their concerns over press freedom under the current government. They are concerned about the impact strict national security legislation will have on their ability to publish stories based on freedom of information requests or information from whistle-blowers. This concern follows Australian Federal Police raids on the Canberra home of NewsCorp journalist Annika Smethurst and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Sydney headquarters earlier this year2.
I would be less cynical if all of these news outlets who have redacted their front pages, were as critical of this corrupt, incompetent government as they should be. The government has constantly pressured the ABC by criticising it at every opportunity and by cutting its budget. The policy arm of the Liberal Party, the Institute of Public Affairs, has, as one of its goals, the selling of the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS)3. Perhaps the worst problem Australian democracy faces, apart from the current government, is the media owned by Murdoch’s organisation. His various news outlets have continually printed lies which I have documented elsewhere4-10, and these lies are with the sole aim of promoting the Coalition government. Now it is the Coalition trying to suppress what they print, and possibly wanting to prosecute one of their journalists. You have to laugh.
Several of the recent news items which have gained, or will eventually gain traction (e.g. ‘watergate’, ‘grassgate’, ‘mategate’) have been started on social media (e.g. Twitter) or on independent media. Even the Barnaby Joyce affair story started on independent media months before being picked up by Murdoch’s Daily Bellylaugh, when it could no longer be ignored. After all, Joyce is a member of the government11.
While the fight to maintain a free media in Australia is a fight we cannot afford to lose, the fight to stop the media lying is one we are losing, and that mostly at the hands of Murdoch. That is just as dangerous for our democracy.