The long and winding road to media freedom

Opinion  |  Dean Johns
Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | There’s a political storm raging right now in Australia about suspected government-instigated interference in the independence of one of this nation’s most cherished institutions, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

This comes at a time when levels of public trust in politicians, political parties and corporate pressure-groups and media power-brokers are at all-time lows.

Even the major banks and other financial organisations, whose very existence depends on trust, have been exposed by a royal commission into their activities that Australia’s ruling coalition for years fiercely denied the need for, as systematically dishonest to the point of criminality in many of their dealings with customers.

And far too many of Australia’s commercial news media are controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s (photo) News Corp, often more accurately referred to as News Corpse.

This is an organisation that so confuses media freedom with media feraldom as to have disgraced itself several years ago in the UK phone-hacking scandal that led to its closure of its dreadful News of the World, but not, unfortunately, its equally sordid Sun - or, if you prefer, the Shun - and continues to disgrace itself today with its Fox News in the US.

In Australia, it peddles such right-wing-partisan apologies for “newspapers” as The Australian, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, all of which pander to their proprietor’s personal, commercial and political interests by shamelessly slanting their news to fit his views.

And into this very bad bargain, the Murdoch media in the UK constantly campaign against publicly-owned media like the BBC in the UK and the ABC in Australia on the dubious, self-interested grounds of “unfair competition” for print readers, air-media viewers and internet “eyeballs”.

Australia’s government has been responding to this campaign by slashing the ABC’s budget whenever possible, and constantly making complaints about what they choose to perceive as its left-wing bias.

As a result, the ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie was recently fired by the corporation’s board of directors for reasons that the chairman of the board Justin Milne refused to publicly disclose.

And now the chairman himself has been asked by the rest of his board to resign following claims that he had bowed to pressure from Australia’s recently-replaced prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to propose the sacking of two senior ABC journalists that Turnbull “hated”.

Or at least that’s the plot so far in outline, and anybody interested in exploring it in more detail or following it further would be well advised to do so here.

Meanwhile, this sordid affair should serve as a salutary reminder to citizens of Australia and many other countries never to take their relatively free news media for granted.

And as a timely reminder to Malaysians that the media freedom that most, if not all, of them have dreamed of for so long will not be won quickly or...

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