Archive for August, 2011

The Media Inquiry we need

by Bob Carr


We all grumble about the media. The question is Lenin’s question: what is to be done? An inquiry could collect every grievance that everyone has ever had with their local radio stations and the mistakes in the deaths’ notices. It can go from one end of the country to the other and hear submissions in Town Halls. It can persuade itself that a lot of reporting and editing is bad, that ownership is concentrated, that there is all sorts of bias. But you can hear that confirmed on Media Watch every week. The question is: what to do?

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The debasement of public debate

by Dr Ken Macnab

John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty (1859) that it was ‘imperative that human beings should be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve’. Moreover, they should be free to act upon these opinions, subject only to the limitation that they do no harm to others. Implicit in Mill’s emphasis on freedom of opinion was the necessity for civil public debate in pursuit of the truth, a calm and systematic contest which acted as a check on power and authority.

In the 1820s the English press came to be conceived as ‘the fourth estate’, and credited with an important role as a ‘check’ on the various arms of government. A similarly crucial role is given to freedom of speech and the press in the First Amendment to the American Constitution (1791) and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

The modern media often claims the same role as facilitator of constructive public participation in democratic politics and society. However, the media largely fails to provide either the full information or informed commentary necessary for it to be part of genuine public debate and a check on adversarial polemic. Instead, it is mostly servile and partisan. When media moguls like Rupert Murdoch set out to make more money by blatantly serving narrow political interests through media such as the alleged ‘world’s greatest newspaper 1843-2011′ (News of the World) and the ‘fair and balanced’ (Fox News), role of the ‘fourth estate’ becomes cynically manipulated and exploited façades. Moreover, and equally insidious in its effect on the quality of public debate, the tone and language of both much media communication and public response has become aggressive, personal and abusive.

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The UK Riots – an Australian’s view

by John August

During my recent trip to Scotland, I absorbed the saturation coverage of the English riots. Comedians were saying, “Look, now Scotland is the safest place in the UK”. The Scottish first minister emphasised they were English, not Scottish riots. While OK for comedians, some felt it wrong for the first minister to say this. Perhaps he should have been showing more solidarity and sympathy for his southern neighbours. Still, the Scottish tourism brand was being tarnished through confusion with things outside its boundaries. Take your pick.

Being so close and an Australian, it gave me a different viewpoint. There was a lot of hand-wringing and comment that seemed to miss just what was important, or what was really behind the hand-wringing. It was tragic. But there’s still a lot we can learn, and a lot we can misunderstand.

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Shock Doctrine in Practice: The Connection Between Nighttime Robbery In the Streets and Daytime Robbery By Elites

by Naomi Klein

When you rob people of what little they have, in order to protect the interests of those who have more than anyone deserves, you should expect resistance.

I keep hearing comparisons between the London riots and riots in other European cities—window smashing in Athens or car bonfires in Paris. And there are parallels, to be sure: a spark set by police violence, a generation that feels forgotten.

But those events were marked by mass destruction; the looting was minor. There have, however, been other mass lootings in recent years, and perhaps we should talk about them too. There was Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion—a frenzy of arson and looting that emptied libraries and museums. The factories got hit too. In 2004 I visited one that used to make refrigerators. Its workers had stripped it of everything valuable, then torched it so thoroughly that the warehouse was a sculpture of buckled sheet metal.

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Where is Progressive Political Leadership?

By George Irvin

London is burning. The major western economies are now like a shipwreck waiting to happen. Although financial markets are inherently volatile and the real economy may not hit the rocks this week (or even next), we know that the financial system in Europe—which includes the UK—and America is increasingly fragile.[1] We desperately need to restore the confidence that leads to jobs and growth, but we have run out of economic tools to fix the economy. The limits of monetary policy have nearly been reached while the real answer—a co-ordinated fiscal stimulus—is ruled out by bone-headed right-wing politicians in Europe and the United States.[2]

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