The Press is talking loudly at the moment about #RightToKnow, but that is, bluntly, a con. What’s more, it’s a con that distracts us from all the other real rights for which we, and the Press, should really be fighting.
For a start, although the Press claims it’s about our “right” to know, what it’s actually asking for only safeguards its right to know. Further, what it wants are really privileges and exemptions, not “rights” at all, because a right that isn’t shared by all isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.
In this case the Press doesn’t want to be subject to laws and restrictions that constrain everyone else—a privilege. Now usually privileges come with responsibilities.
It seems reasonable that the Press’ responsibility in this case is to honestly and fairly publish what it knows thanks to those privileges, particularly since their campaign claims that this is about our “right” to know.
In its campaign, however, the Press isn’t offering to be held to any matching obligations or responsibilities. It wants its special treatment for nothing; there is only an implied promise that what it knows, it will publish.
However we know that the Press hasn’t been honourable in observing that implied promise to publish what it has learned, using its privileges. In that respect it’s worse than the government; we get to elect the government, but we have no say over the Press if it fails to meet its obligations.
Further, freedom of the Press is only one part of living in a free society, there are many other rights equally important, however Bill after Bill has been passed into law, eroding our freedoms and our privacy—our rights—and there has been no equivalent front-page campaign defending us, or all those other rights.
If the Press were genuine in its concerns, and in particular about “rights”, then we could have expected it to be equally vocal when other, real rights were under attack by the government, but we already know that’s not the case.
This makes it pretty clear that it’s really self-interest that’s driving this campaign, not the feigned concern for our rights.
Examples abound of selective reporting, biased reporting, failure to report, failure to investigate, failure to provide balance, and the list goes on. The Press more often than not appears to be operating as a Public Relations extension to the government, at best simply stenographers for every government statement, and at worst active propagandists for the government.
Why should we cede our “right” to know to a small group of privileged people who then renege on the bargain and keep us in the dark anyway? As I mentioned, the Liberal government has passed over twenty pieces of legislation that restrict or erode various of our rights or freedoms, but the Press was not nearly as vociferous about those.
The cruel irony for us, the general public, is that we must defend the freedom of the Press despite that betrayal. The reason why there is so much anger and resentment right now is because we all know that the Press hasn’t reciprocated.
They owe us, and while it’s clear this campaign may stop things getting worse, it’s not a recipe to make them better.
That’s what we need, and what we want, and there is a way to do it. I’ll discuss that in a moment, but first, let’s dispose of a couple of other red herrings.
Not All Journalists
One of the consequences of this boiling over of resentment and backlash against the Press, in general, has been plaintive bleating from individual journalists who keep saying “Not all journalists”.
This has strong, unfortunate echoes of the cries of “Not all men” in the wake of #MeToo, and it deserves the same response: this isn’t about you; and just as nobody is so naive as to believe that every man is a rapist we don’t think that every journalist abrogates their responsibilities. The point in both cases is that overall, as a group, you are responsible, and turning the conversation from the general to the specific does everyone a disservice.
Yes, there are good journalists. If all journalists are good, why is everyone upset? It follows there must be some bad journalists, and judging from the anger out there, it must be at the very least a significant minority. That is the problem we’re trying to address.
Not all Publishers
One of the elephants in the room—and there are several—is the important distinction between journalist and publisher. Many of the aggrieved journalists saying “Not all journalists” work for publishers with a very poor track record for balanced or unbiased publication.
Yes, we understand that the editors and publishers control which stories run, not journalists, but as members of the general public trying to exercise our “Right To Know” it doesn’t make any difference. A good journalist with a bad publisher produces the same result as a bad journalist—we don’t know.
A perfect example of this is the work by Anthony Klan, @Anthony_Klan on Twitter, on the Angus Taylor #Watergate story. He wrote a detailed, comprehensive story on this before the Federal election. It was spiked by his employer, a Murdoch publication, and he was threatened for disclosing some of the information on Twitter. Obviously this is the opposite of our “right” to know, it’s deliberate censorship by the Press; not by the journalist, but the result is the same.
So remind us again why it’s better for us to fight just for your rights, rather than ours?
Charter of Rights — #AllOurRights
All of which brings me to the conclusion, which is that a real solution to this problem is not carving out some niche privileges for an unelected clique to then abuse and fritter away without any sanction or consequence.
The real source of the problem is not the specific threat to one specific group, but rather the complete lack of any protection for any of the rights that have been successively eroded by those twenty pieces of legislation, and which will continue to be eroded without notice because the Press as a whole has repeatedly failed us and there is no other guardian.
We need #AllOurRights codified and protected by law. Only then can their constant erosion be challenged and stopped, and with those rights in place the “freedom of the Press” will be a great deal safer than it will when surrounded by a lack of freedom for everybody else.
What we should be seeing is the Press reporting on the need for every Australian’s rights, and not just the vague “right to know”, a right that doesn’t figure in any Bill of Rights anywhere, but all of the basic rights that most countries have enshrined in their Constitution or legislation.
We shouldn’t be seeing the Press suddenly galvanised into concerted and unifying action to protect its own privilege, purportedly on our behalf, an action that has generated justifiable outrage.
The Press should absolutely be running a campaign about rights. However what we should be seeing is the Press taking a principled stand for every Australian’s rights, for #AllOurRights, not just theirs.
They owe us.