Back in 2003, the American entertainer Barbra Streisand attempted to suppress photographs of her enormous residence in Malibu, California. She sued a photographer for violation of her privacy. The $US50 million lawsuit endeavoured to remove an aerial photograph from a public collection of thousands of California coastal photographs. Before the lawsuit, the image had been downloaded only 6 times. The lawsuit inadvertently led to vastly increased public attention, with 420,000 people visiting the site over the following month. Attempted suppression leading to the reverse of what was intended, is now termed the Streisand Effect1.
While Malcolm Turnbull is no Barbra Streisand, his recent debacles have certainly been entertaining, especially the stoush with Barnaby Joyce over his sexual peccadillo. While Turnbull’s efforts in this brawl only seem to have exacerbated the problem, the really superb example of the Streisand Effect has nothing to do with the Joyce debacle. On February 14th, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) highly regarded economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, posted an article on the ABC News website arguing that the corporate tax cut proposed by the Federal Government lacked a credible case, including the fact that 20% of companies paid no tax anyway2.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull complained about the article, saying “We saw that [the opposition] were busily retweeting the article – one of the most confused and poorly researched articles I’ve seen on this topic on the ABC’s website”. So, what did the ABC do? It cravenly removed the article. Why? Because “it did not accord with our editorial standards for analysis content” and was removed “for further review”. ABC sources said there were no inaccuracies in the article, but the director of news, Gaven Morris, decided to take the analysis piece down because he believed it sounded too much like opinion. The ABC editorial guidelines prevent ABC journalists from writing opinion2,3.
Turnbull’s ham-fisted attempt at suppression has had the reverse effect to that which he desired. It has led to an enormous number of retweets of the story, and its caching on numerous websites in addition to webcache itself4. There are also numerous other articles demonstrating that the arguments Turnbull uses for his proposed corporate tax cuts are lacking any validity5,6,7,8,9. However, most people realise that the Coalition is not about creating jobs for Australians. If they were, they would decrease taxes paid by low- and middle-income earners. But that is not their game; it is all about propping up donations to the Liberal Party from big business.