Australia

Australia's Press Regulators Look To Enforce Ideological Conformity

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Rupert Murdoch
David Shankbone

As noted at Reason 24/7, the Australian Press Council, an industry-established regulatory body created to head off government interference with the media, takes exception to what it sees as the conservative slant of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers in that country. Specifically, the council chimed in with a wrist-slap to "editors" clearly aimed at Murdoch's properties just days after the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation complained that his Daily Telegraph was mean-spirited in covering allegations that Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a dick (not a secret, down under). That's right, chimed in British Labour politician Tom Watson, who has taken his anti-Murdoch crusade to Australia. "That's an abuse of their position if they're going to pump out propaganda." It's all a very interesting peek at why "press regulation" is a such lousy idea that inevitably ends up as a tool for enforcing conformity — of opinion in particular.

The government broadcaster's talking head, Paul Barry, continued his dissection of the Telegraph:

So let's look at the Telegraph in a little more detail, because there is absolutely no doubt about its bias in this election.

In the first week of the campaign we tallied the Tele's coverage and found that exactly half its 80 political stories were slanted against Labor, while none were against the Coalition.

In the last two weeks the result is even clearer.

Out of 107 stories:

59 in our opinion are quite clearly Anti Labor. While just four are anti the Coalition. Only three of the Tele's stories are pro Labor, while 19 are pro the Coalition. And the rest are neutral.

Looking through the pages it's also clear that it's not policies or performance that Murdoch's paper is attacking. It's Rudd himself, whom they paint as a psychopath, a narcissist, a bore and a cheat, and a great deal more.

Australian television journalism, it should be noted, rises almost to the professional standards of the average high school A-V club.

Tom Watson is not only a Labour parliamentarian, but the author of Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain. For him, taking down the conservative newspaper publisher is a passion and a business. Said he to the Australian Financial Review:

"And they say, 'we're a free press, we can say whatever we like'. Yes you can, but you can't use it for propaganda."

Well, that's an interesting take on the meaning of "free press."

All of this elicited a letter from the above mentioned Australian Press Council, a body that previously investigated the Daily Telegraph for referring to a government program as "bungled", "botched" and "much-maligned" and The Australian for running a cartoon portraying the prime minister in a Soviet -realist style. Cautioned the letter:

[T]he Council believes that it is essential that a clear distinction be drawn between reporting the facts and stating opinion. A paper's editorial viewpoints and its advocacy of them must be kept separate from its news columns.

That's one philosophy of journalism, for certain, and it is likely that Murdoch's newspapers run afoul of it by taking very clearly right-of-center political positions on the issues. But that's not a unique situation in Australia. In 1999, Michael Warby of the free-market Institute for Public Affairs wrote of his experience with the national broadcaster:

Let me start with a vignette from personal experience. I have no problem with same-sex marriage or adoption, believe that narcotics should be legalised because adults own their own bodies, was three times a marshal in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and have been a union workplace delegate. This should clearly class me as a standard-bearer for the counter-culture.

But the ABC is cleverer than that: they can see right through me. I am, in fact, an ultra-conservative. Or at least, that is what they told Australia.

The second last occasion on which I appeared on ABC Radio News I was introduced as a spokesperson for the 'ultra-conservative' H R Nicholls Society. The H R Nicholls Society is a labour market reform body which advocates the replacement of our 94-year-old arbitration system. It is reformist certainly, radical maybe. Yet, in ABC-speak, it is 'ultra-conservative'.

Now, when was the last time any of us heard an ABC announcer to refer to the 'radical' Greenpeace, the 'left-wing' Australia Institute or the 'ultra-left' or 'ultra-radical' anything? Only those deemed to be on the right of centre are automatically given ideological labels by ABC presenters. I doubt that anyone in the ABC will see any problem in this.

This personal tale also would seem to run afoul of the Press Council's take on the proper practice of journalism. But aside from the fact that Australian taxpayers are soaked for the cost of the ABC, there's nothing necessarily wrong with the broadcaster having a left-wing take, or the Telegraph a right-wing take, on the news. Given our inherent biases and tendency to flock with like-minded individuals who share our good sense, it's probably impossible to avoid such bias, since we end up soaking in it and taking it for the norm.

Which means that a press regulator that attempts to eliminate political bias from the news media will inevitably end up cracking down on views that contrast with those of whoever dominates the regulatory body. Those "different" views will be the ones that stand out as "bias."

As mentioned, the Australian Press Council is an industry body, with no legal powers. But Australia's Finkelstein Inquiry threatens government regulation of the press. That proposal hasn't been enacted yet, but the country is hovering on the brink of legally enforceable crackdowns on "bias." Britain is also close to enacting government controls over the press.

Press regulation with legal teeth will certainly do its best to root out media bias — as perceived by those in power.

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  1. “As mentioned, the Australian Press Council is an industry body, with no legal powers. But Australia’s Finkelstein Inquiry threatens government regulation of the press.”

    Yes, so long as you follow the “suggestions”, we won’t aim a gun at you. See how simple that is?

    1. Freedom means asking permission and taking orders.

  2. Here the conformity polices itself

    Again just in case, http://goo.gl/531VMA
    Cause it’s not working in preview.

    1. If it’s not working in preview, it’s probably SF’ed.

  3. In the first week of the campaign we tallied the Tele’s coverage and found that exactly half its 80 political stories were slanted against Labor, while none were against the Coalition

    So, they’re the AU version of MSNBC? Can we ban MSNBC?

    Just kidding, of course, I don’t want to ban any free speech. Just saying how ridiculous this effort to ‘regulate’ speech is.

  4. Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a dick (not a secret, down under). That’s right, chimed in British Labour politician Tom Watson

    Wait, did the Aussies join us in our glorious rejection of the superfluous letter u?

    1. Only in the name of the party.

    2. Jemaine: It doesn’t matter what country someone’s from, or what they look like, or the color of their skin. It doesn’t matter what they smell like, or that they spell words slightly differently…some would say, more correctly.

      Sinjay: Yeah…

      Jemaine: Let me finish. I’m a person. Bret’s a person. You’re a person. That person over there is a person. And each person deserves to be treated like a person.

      Sinjay: That’s a great speech. Too bad New Zealanders are a bunch of cocky a-holes descended from criminals and retarded monkeys.

      Jemaine: No, you’re thinking of Australians.

      Bret: Yeah, that’s Australians.

      1. Saw them at Oddball Comedy Festival, unfortunately it was obvious they hadn’t been rehearsing for very long and had very little new material. It was partially the crowds fault, who were pretty awful about demanding Dave Chappelle. Dave was even worse (crowd also somewhat to blame), he was so fucking bitter. The jokes about how he should have just taken the $50 million and how he got paid upfront this time got old rather quickly, and that was almost entirely his bit. Hannibal Burress was hilarious though.

  5. That’s the first case of vagina dentata,/i I’ve ever seen on someones face.

  6. OT: An allegory for our current mess.

    On “Golden Eagle Day” at Oral Roberts University last week, a bald eagle named Lewis was part of a special chapel service marking the start of the 2013 fall semester when things went horribly wrong.

    1. You know who else veered off course after he failed to follow his handler’s instuctions?

      1. Tilikum?

      2. Jason Bourne?

      3. Sterling Archer?

      4. Sigfried or Roy?

    2. Just a little bit of nationalism going on at ORU, it seems. Of course, worshipping symbols comes naturally to them.

      1. I’m gonna rise up, I’m gonna kick a little ass, Gonna kick some ass in the USA, Gonna climb a mountain, Gonna sew a flag, Gonna fly on an Eagle, I’m gonna kick some butt, I’m gonna drive a big truck, I’m gonna rule this world, Gonna kick some ass, Gonna rise up, Kick a little ass, ROCK, FLAG AND EAGLE!

        1. +1 Dayman

      2. Should have been a golden calf instead of a golden eagle.

  7. You know who else looked to enforce ideological conformity?

      1. Only in the in the interest of a civil society.

      2. You planning on forming a state, Brandon. What gives you the right to do that?

  8. Kulaks. Wreckers and hoarders.

  9. Fairness in the media = Road to hell

    I want my slanted news. I want my unslanted news as well. I don’t want those in power to ever get a break from constant scrutiny and insults. If they can’t take it, then they can get out of office.

    1. Fairness in the media = Road to hell

      Institutionalized fairness leads to institutionalized injustice which leads to hell.

  10. Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

    Okay, that sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. I have this vision of a kangaroo wearing a cop hat and ball gag.

      1. Like an actual kangaroo or a person in a kangaroo suit? I’m good with either.

      1. Come on, come to the rally with your mum!

        1. I was thinking the leather, mustaches and mirror shades, but yeah.

    2. Until it isn’t. Skip to about 55 seconds.

      Regardless, I’d still go, it looks like a blast.

      1. I’ll have to watch it on a break.

      2. Apparently the dude in tight shorts and sneakers, already handcuffed was still resisting too hard. Fuck.

      3. Beating up twinks, the true hallmark of the brave boys in blue. And the look on the cop’s face is repulsive. Satisfied yet trying to hide it from the camera.

        I really shouldn’t watch shit like this, it just raises my blood pressure.

      4. Jesus Christ. He could have killed that guy. His hands were bound so he couldn’t break the fall. If he’d turned a little more while he was going down he would have cracked his skull open.

        1. And still nothing else would have happened.

        2. That was pretty sickening. Especially, since I can believe the guy when he says he’s done nothing wrong.

      5. Fuck. You know that pig was absolutely thrilled that he finally got the chance to smash some twink’s face into the sidewalk.

        1. Is twink derogatory?

          1. For the heck of it I put twink into google and the work filter blocked the results saying they were pornographic.

          2. No, it is merely a descriptor.

            Frank Reynolds: You don’t look like a gay guy.

            Dennis Reynolds: That’s because he’s a bear.

            Mac: What?

            Dennis Reynolds: He’s a bear. You see, some gay guys are twinks and other are bears. This gay guy’s a bear. By the way, we are totally cool with that. To each his own.

            Frank Reynolds: Wait, I’m a little confused here. What’s a twink?

            Dennis Reynolds: A twink is small and slender, like mac.

            Mac: Oh, no, I’m too muscular. I would be a bear.

            Dennis Reynolds: Uh, don’t think so, bro. Not hairy enough.

            1. Thanks. It’s hard to keep up with what’s PC and what is insulting. Not that matters here but I do venture out into the real world sometimes.

              1. “Twink” can have a slightly derogatory tone — it can imply a lack of intelligence, and that, like a Twinkie, the person described is easy to fill with cream, and thus be a gay male version of “chick” or “bimbo”.

                Or, as Epi noted, it could be just a descriptive phrase — Justin in “Queer As Folk” was totally a twink, but in a good way.

          3. No. Sorry for the crappy quality, couldn’t find a good one.

            1. …or you could just read Epi’s transcript.

              1. Watching the video is better.

          4. I think in certain contexts, but not always. I dunno. jesse?

            1. jesse please speak to us on behalf of your people.

              1. Teach me, jesse, oh, teach me, teach me. Teach me everything you know, and don’t hold back. Don’t you dare be gentle with me, either.

              2. But jesse is a bear!

                1. Yes but is he the emperor of gay people.

                  1. jesse please speak to us on behalf of your people.

                    I think it’s interesting that that happens. Everyone does that with Nikki and lady-libertarians too.

                    Also this is why there are no twink libertarians.

                2. But jesse is a bear!

                  🙁

                  I don’t know that I fit into any of the gay taxonomy categories (just an example, different folks have different lists) neatly. (By the numbers I’m a “wolf” according to this site)

                  I don’t really see myself as a bear.

                  Love the new handle Nikki.

                  1. I’d be a bear, it seems. So what defines a musclebear, then? Because height/weight/waist size apparently is not enough to define muscleyness.

                    Also, the one-axis top/bottom scale is woefully inadequate. It tells us nothing about whether the bottom is capable of transmitting an immense amount of power, you know?

                    1. You’re a catcher?

                    2. According to the chart it’s the “density” that differentiates muscle bear and a standard bear. Both are hairy, but a muscle bear may be large, but he’s built while a standard bear would be pudgier.

                    3. Yeah, but I’ve been unable to manipulate the density computed variable enough with the variables they’ve given me. If I take in my waist a few inches from reality, I go from being a bear to a bull and skip musclebear entirely. THIS SITE IS FUCKING BULLSHIT.

                    4. So what defines a musclebear, then?

                      Can’t you just be happy with Ursine?

                  2. What special attributes do you get for being a wolf? Which classes are spellcasters?

                    1. What special attributes do you get for being a wolf? Which classes are spellcasters?

                      Standard druid shit. Entangle is particularly useful when at the bars.

                  3. If I were gay, I’d apparently be a gym bunny.

                    That’s actually kind of flattering.

                    1. If I were gay, I’d apparently be a gym bunny.

                      The site says I’d be a gym rat. There’s approx. a 45% chance we’d be attracted to each other, apparently.

                    2. Are you proposing something?

                    3. I’m just saying, ya know. I was going to go from there based on your reaction.

                  4. You are a Muscle Bear

                    The next closest match was Daddy .
                    You are least like a Twink.

                    All you q-bait best line up!

                  5. I got gym rat. I would not have guessed that.

                    1. Daddy, followed by muscle bear, even though I answered average hairiness. Doesn’t that make me a daddy muscle bear?

                    2. It says you are my next closest match, I’m not sure if that means we are most similar or most made for each other.

                    3. With all the hair that grows on my butt, I knew where mine lead.

                  6. Thanks, jesse. Really I was just teasing you about your beard.

                  7. What I learned from that site is that Daddies will fuck anything that moves and has a dick, and it sucks to be a Chub.

                    Who invents these categories, anyway? I assume there’s some sort of international gay measurment standard organization. Le syst?me international des homosexuels.

                    1. Le syst?me international des homosexuels.

                      If we had a central planning committee you would’ve been able to tag your density value, no?

                      When I was younger and getting my feet wet on the internet, I more often saw “badger” where “wolf” and “otter” now are a few years later those had entirely been supplanted. I’m assuming these things are more unified with the advent of the internet just like anything else is, with regional and local differences collapsing into national and international ones.

              3. Look Jesse Jackson in MB is not the emperor of black gay people!

            2. I don’t think I’ve seen it used as overtly derogatory, although depending on tone it can convey “he is skinny, hairless, effete and I do not like those things” but I think that’s generally true with any descriptive term.

              1. it can convey “he is skinny, hairless, effete and I do not like those things”

                That is pretty accurate. It can just as easily be used the other way (“I do like those things”).

                1. Apparently I’m a “cub”. Not sure what to make of that.

        2. I’m sure he does it on a daily basis.

  11. Publishing bias propaganda could be defanged in one fell swoop if Australia would just repeal all those laws that force people to buy and read Murdoch’s newspapers.

  12. One thing I like about America is that our left still pretends. They don’t even bother elsewhere in the Anglosphere.

    1. Just imagine how much fun a Constitutional Convention could be. We could get the worst of both the UK and Australia codified into law.

  13. Australian television journalism, it should be noted, rises almost to the professional standards of the average high school A-V club.

    That’s an insult to high school A-V clubs.

    1. “almost” covers a lot of ground.

    2. Have you seen the AV Club website?

  14. The second last occasion on which I appeared on ABC Radio News I was introduced as a spokesperson for the ‘ultra-conservative’ H R Nicholls Society. The H R Nicholls Society is a labour market reform body which advocates the replacement of our 94-year-old arbitration system.

    Damn conservatives, always trying to tear down long established institutions. I guess conservative is the new fascist, as in anyone the speaker disagrees with.

    1. If you disagree then you’re intolerant, and it is the duty of tolerant people to not tolerate intolerance.

  15. It’s sad that the descendants of a former penal colony are more obsequious to authority than the descendants of a gang of rebel politicians.

  16. You know, the really disgusting part of this? What portion of the Australian Press Council’s operating budget does anybody want to bet is financed by donations from News Ltd? Murdoch’s got to pay for his own censure.

  17. The right to spew propaganda is what needs protecting. Nobody’s trying to squelch the local stories about a boy who won three track meet events or a woman who’s happy to be a great-great-grandmother. We need protection for the unpleasant stories that the mayor is corrupt or the governor is racist.

  18. days after the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation complained that his Daily Telegraph was mean-spirited in covering allegations that Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a dick (not a secret, down under). That’s right, chimed in British Labour politician Tom Watson, who has taken his anti-Murdoch crusade to Australia. “That’s an abuse of their position if they’re going to pump out propaganda.”

    You people thought I was joking when I said Lese Majeste is a crime to these tards in government.

  19. What part of “make no law” do England and Australia not understand…? Oh.

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