Press freedom, hyperbole and hypocrisy

Last week’s series of raids by the Australian Federal Police have set off a firestorm of whinging, hyperbole and hypocrisy.

Investigating separate matters, the AFP searched the home of a News Corp journalist and offices at the ABC. It must be borne in mind, first and foremost, that the journalists themselves were not under investigation. The Feds are trying to trace the sources of a series of leaks, some of their content classified. There is nothing much new here. It’s happened before and, barring law reform, will happen again.

Outraged journalists said it was chilling. Alas, many of these same journalists have not been doing their job if they haven’t noticed this is how free speech is silenced today.

But Janet Albrechtsen is absolutely right to castigate the self-righteous ninnies of the left, who were out marching their little marches, last week.

Many of the same journalists who, last week, held up signs for the cameras saying that it is not a crime to be a journalist have not raised so much as an eyebrow about other dismally illiberal events. That makes them complicit in a stifling culture that gave rise to last week’s AFP raids. After all, a free press is only one part of our basic right to speak freely. If you don’t defend the latter, expect to lose the former soon enough.

The left-media are near-unanimous in their contempt for free speech. When Andrew Bolt was prosecuted for claiming that some Aboriginal activists were in the identity game for the rewards, Jonathan Holmes was almost completely alone on the left in voicing his disquiet over the judgement. Nor did they stand up for cartoonist Bill Leak when he was hounded by the Orwellian Australian Human Rights Commission.

Some of us have reported extensively on the creeping, and creepy, mission of the AHRC. It needs to be renamed; its name is an insult to genuine human rights. And these dismal events need to be laid out, over and over again, until we defeat an illiberal culture that is strangling freedom of expression, the single most important piece of machinery that drives a robust marketplace of ideas. It is the centrifugal force of Western progress.

Last year, physics professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for raising questions about the quality of climate research by some of his colleagues. The university used a code of conduct and claims of “uncollegial behaviour” to get him off campus. ABC HQ showed no interest in asking why the university didn’t encourage a debate about Ridd’s claims or even why it shut him down.

During the federal election, the ABC’s senior journalists showed no interest when Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he wanted hate speech laws to regulate the media to hold the likes of Bolt, Alan Jones and Chris Kenny to account. This proposal would kill a free, independent media in Australia…The ABC gave Di Natale a free pass.

There was no ABC outrage, only nonchalance, when the Gillard government proposed an Orwellian regime of government oversight to make the media “balanced” and “accountable”. As James Paterson, now a Liberal senator, wrote then: “The last time that media outlets were subject to press licensing in the English-speaking world was 1693…”

Let’s get this clear: the recent raids are not some shocking new clampdown on press freedom. It’s business as usual – right or wrong. All journalists know they take a risk publishing leaked and especially classified material. Journalists have been jailed for refusing to disclose sources. While it’s correct to argue that this is less than ideal for a free press, it’s pure hyperbole to pretend that it’s the beginning of an imminent, Orwellian dystopia.

It is critical that we constantly check where society, governments and bureaucracies draw lines to restrict free speech. Journalists want buffer zones around themselves to protect a free press. Fair enough. But where the heck have they been when it comes to defending the rights of other Australians to speak freely?