Friday, June 29, 2012

Leftist attempts at censorship never stop

A truth-telling media threatens their survival

MEDIA owners will be forced to submit to a public interest test under a plan to be presented to the federal cabinet within weeks.

The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the test had nothing to do with Gina Rinehart increasing her stake in Fairfax as work had been under way for two years to tighten media regulation and ownership rules.

"We've been looking at these issues with a view to acting for a considerable period of time," he said. "Ms Rinehart will come, Ms Rinehart may go. But we've actually been putting in place a whole range of processes to give us some advice, to canvass these issues publicly.

"I absolutely reject that anything that we're doing at the moment is based on a knee-jerk reaction to Ms Rinehart. We have strong views about the charter of editorial independence but the Convergence Review, the Finkelstein [review], all occurred long before Ms Rinehart was a significant media player."

Mrs Rinehart has refused to sign Fairfax's charter of independence, should she win seats on the Fairfax board, and has publicly threatened to sell her shares in the company if she was not offered board seats "without unsuitable conditions".

Fairfax issued a statement on Tuesday saying it would not invite Mrs Rinehart to join the board until she signed the charter.

The chairman, Roger Corbett, said he regretted the decision and hoped "it might be possible" for Mrs Rinehart to join in future. "However key elements yet to be agreed include acceptance of the charter of editorial independence as it stands and the Fairfax board governance principles as agreed by all existing directors," he said.

"In coming to this view the board has gauged the opinion of other shareholders and noted some of their recent public comments on these matters, noting in particular they share the company's view on maintaining editorial independence and their desire that board members act in the interests of all shareholders. The company has received tens of thousands of emails and other correspondence from shareholders, our readers and others making it clear that they support Fairfax's long-standing position on editorial independence."

The Australian Financial Review reported yesterday that the public interest test legislation could vet investors such as Mrs Rinehart and the expansion plans of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. "Labor MPs have been told to sell the idea of a media crackdown to their electorates over the next six weeks after allegations involving the media's role in the Peter Slipper affair galvanised cabinet into 'fierce backing' of the controversial test," the paper reported.

Senator Conroy said there was a clear role for legislation but it was incumbent on news organisations to abide by their codes of conduct.

"There's been a whole range of issues internationally where it's been seen that people [journalists] have played roles - and I think that's the hardest part in today's 24/7 media cycle, just finding that balance between comment, reporting, opinion - and that's why news organisations have their codes of conduct and their standards," he said. "And we're asking simply that they apply them."


The obscure world of public interest

This is getting decidedly whacky.  Yesterday's Australian Financial Review reported an exciting new thought bubble from Canberra, saying "federal cabinet is set to approve and present to Parliament a tough public interest test for media ownership".

The core ingredient behind the sudden propulsion of this idea must be that both Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch are unsuitable people to run newspapers.

The faith politicians have in such an amorphous concept as "the public interest" is unbelievably touching.

Presumably, in this context it will be tied up with the Convergence Review's thoughts about "diversity of unique owners" and the Finkelstein report's recommendations about regulation of journalistic standards.

Certainly, there is a strong case against our unacceptably concentrated newspaper business, where poor devils in South Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory are plied only with Murdoch newsprint.

Some sort of regulatory ownership and standards straddle might just squeak through because there would be enough politicians who cannot stand the media.

"The public interest" is a phrase sprinkled through legislation with gay abandon. It sounds democratic and noble, but at the end of the rainbow it has to be interpreted by a judge, or a cluster of judges - a recipe for uncertainty, because the judges themselves are uncertain.

Already in legislation the phrase competes with itself. For instance, in the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act, a court can suppress something if it is in the public interest and that public interest outweighs the public interest in open justice. It's almost a foregone conclusion as to which "public interest" will win in that contest.

Again, in the legislation that is supposed to give journalists protection from revealing their sources in court, the public interest in preserving confidentiality can be overborne by the public interest in disclosure.

The Defamation Act starts off with some high-flown sentiment about not placing unreasonable limits on "publication and discussion of matters of public interest".

It does not amount to a hill of beans.

The phrase appears in the Broadcasting Services Act, giving the minister power to take control over material to be broadcast "in the public interest". In the government's issues paper on a cause of action for serious invasion of privacy, "public interest" appeared 57 times. In the Finkelstein report, it was 85 times, the same number of times it was mentioned in the Convergence Review (including 13 times on one page).

No doubt it is a popular rubric because it artfully allows plenty of imprecision and circularity in its application.

None of which is to say there are no justified complaints about the media's behaviour. Material submitted to the Federal Court this week by Peter Slipper's lawyers, and based on discovery of text messages and emails, points to a conspiracy involving the Liberal National Party and a News Ltd journalist "to get" the Speaker.

In relation to another parliamentary undesirable, Craig Thomson, Channel Nine's "hooker" exposé´ backfired recently.

And the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has been upset that The Daily Telegraph did not apologise for mistakenly claiming he was so mean he cut out the free bottles of water and snacks for children touring Parliament House.

Really, a public interest test is fine, as long as no one tries to define it. Lord Phillips (Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers), the president of England's Supreme Court, tried to give it clarity in a recent libel case involving The Times: "The public interest is whether, and in what circumstances, it is in the public interest to refer to the fact that accusations have been made …"

Already, you can feel things slipping away.

The handmaiden of "public interest" is "fit and proper" - another fertile field of conjecture. A majority of members of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee thought Murdoch was not fit and proper to run newspapers. Others did not have a problem with him. Ofcom, the regulator is having a long, hard think about it.

Would Rinehart be fit and proper to control Fairfax? She is perfectly entitled to have off-the-wall ideas and start her own rag to propagate them. It's another thing altogether if she wants to force them down the gullet of the second biggest newspaper chain in the country.

Maybe a direct, uncomplicated way of defining the public interest in media legislation is a one-line act that says: "These people cannot control a press or broadcasting business in Australia - see minister's regulations for the full list."

Otherwise, we have the situation so succinctly put by Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."


Environmental protection to be wound back to enable mining!

THE Steve Irwin Reserve on Cape York is expected to be mined, with Environment Minister Andrew Powell yesterday moving to wind back Wild Rivers environment protection.

Mr Powell released a scoping paper for a proposed management plan, which is expected to replace Wild Rivers protection on at least four rivers.

Under Wild Rivers, the previous government placed a 500m buffer zone on the Wenlock River, potentially making Cape Alumina's multibillion-dollar Pisolite Hills bauxite mine proposal unprofitable.

Wilderness Society spokesman Tim Seelig said yesterday he feared the mine would destroy the Wenlock, which had the highest number of freshwater species in Australia.

"We know Cape Alumina is just waiting to get its plans back on the table," he said. "Once protection is removed, it will be open slather."

Cape Alumina managing director Graeme Sherlock said the company was concentrating on its nearby Bauxite Hills project, rather than Pisolite Hills.

In April, Mr Sherlock said if Premier Campbell Newman changed wild rivers legislation, Pisolite Hills would be reassessed.

Cape Alumina proposes to use 12,360ha or about 9 per cent of the Irwin Reserve, which is the old Bertiehaugh cattle station.

Dr Seelig said Mr Powell was winding back the clock on environment protection.

"This will inevitably lead to more destructive development such as mining and dams in our last free-flowing rivers," Dr Seelig said.

Eight new mines had been proposed for the Cape's east and west coasts.

"(The Government needs) to commit to protecting the environment ... as the first priority and only support truly sustainable economic activities," Dr Seelig said.

He supported Mr Powell's whole-of-region conservation approach although there were few details in the scoping paper.

Mr Powell said he would release details next week but the bioregion management plan would focus on protection and management of the Cape, while allowing appropriate opportunities for economic development.

The policy would give Indigenous communities a bigger say in economic development.

Dr Seelig said he was glad Mr Powell proposed to continue the Cape York World Heritage listing process on one of the last great wild places on earth.

Activist Noel Pearson has campaigned against Wild Rivers but the process has been supported by other Murris.

The Irwin Reserve purchase was funded by former Liberal prime minister John Howard to honour television celebrity and conservationist Steve Irwin.


NSW teachers fined for striking last year

The NSW Teachers' Federation has been fined $6000 over an illegal strike.  ABOUT 67,000 teachers walked off the job on September 8 over a 2.5 per cent cap on public sector wages.  The 24-hour action defied an 11th hour ruling from the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).

IRC Justice Wayne Haylen on Thursday morning fined the union $6000.

Teachers joined thousands of other public sector workers during the September strike in what unions described as the biggest mass demonstration in two decades.

The state government has criticised the IRC for taking too long to fine the teachers union after 55,000 teachers defied the IRC once again and walked off the job on Wednesday.

They were protesting the government's latest education reforms and the union is risking a maximum fine of $10,000.  The government is working to pass legislation in the upper house to have unions fined up to $110,000 for disobeying the industrial umpire.

In his judgment, Justice Haylen said he would not impose the maximum fine because the September industrial action was less serious compared to other breaches by the union.

"The court is unable to conclude that these breaches are of the same order of seriousness as the previous two breaches by the federation," Justice Haylen said in his judgment.  "This industrial action involved protest rallies against government policy not open to arbitration.  "The rally itself was supported by all public sector unions under the auspices of Unions NSW."

The union has been ordered to pay the fine within 28 days.


Vigilantes avoid jail as victim slammed by judge

TWO vigilantes who stripped naked and bashed a teen who threw water bombs at their car avoided jail today after a judge slammed the actions of the victim.  Judge Michael McInerney said he did not accept the prosecution description of the actions of the victim as a "minor prank".

Daryl Marshall, 34, of Maiden Gully, and Beau Edwards, 25, of Redesdale, admitted they punched and kicked the teen and forced him to remove all of his clothes.

When he was too slow in complying they ripped off his remaining clothes and shoes and drove off with them.  The attack left the victim with a dislocated shoulder, black eyes and bruises.

Judge McInerney said the victim and seven other teens threw water bombs at cars driving along a stretch of road in Strathfieldsaye near Bendigo at 10.30pm in September 2010.

He said throwing missiles at cars had the potential to cause serious injury or death but the "significant provocation" did not excuse the retribution.  "The behaviour of the complainant and his friends was quite outrageous," Judge McInerney said in his County Court sentence.

The judge sentenced Marshall to 18 months jail wholly suspended for three years and Edwards to a two year community corrections order.  Judge McInerney said Marshall, who had a number of prior convictions, had a major brain injury from an assault and depression.  He said Edwards who was drunk had no prior convictions and was a person of strong character and with an excellent work record.

Judge McInerney said Edwards was sacked because of the charges and he criticised employers who took such action before the court process was completed.

"These sorts of actions seem to occur in football clubs which seem to have a total disregard for the rule of law," he said, The judge said a message had to be sent to people who took the law into their own hands and warned both men that if they offended again they would have to serve jail terms.

Edwards pleaded guilty to single counts of intentionally causing serious injury and robbery.  Marshall pleaded guilty to single counts of recklessly causing serious injury and robbery.


1 comment:

Paul said...

We are currently experiencing a wave of Black crime in Cairns (burglaries, car theft etc) but the media is silent because they fear vigilantism when people realize the police are too busy fining motorists for minor but lucrative infractions to do anything much about it, and start taking matters into their own hands.