Why are Australians like mushrooms?
A: Because we’re kept in the dark and fed bullshit!
I have long been aware that the news that we are fed in mainstream media is severely biased and often highly selective but I still found it quite shocking to discover that Australia has recently been ranked a mere 35th and 39th in the world in terms of freedom of press. These ratings were carried out by two different independent organizations, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House and reflect the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom. According to the RWB’s World Press Freedom Index 2006 Australian journalists enjoy less freedom than those in Ghana, Namibia, Costa Rica and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Hmm!
Top of the index are Finland, Iceland and Ireland, followed by the Netherlands and (surprisingly) the Czech Republic at number 5. Canada came in at 18, New Zealand 21 and the United Kingdom lagged behind at 28.
But we did come in above the United States! The “land of the free” ranks a feeble 56. Australia also has more press freedom than Japan (51) or Hong Kong (59). And there’s a long way to fall before we join the likes of North Korea at 168.
John Stapleton, whose article alerted me to the reports quoted above, writes for one of Australia’s few independent newspapers, the South Sydney Herald. He describes Australia as a ‘communist country with a capitalist gloss’ . He reports that the government contrives to make Freedom of Information applications too expensive for major newspapers, let alone your average citizen, that Australian laws now contain ‘more than 500 separate prohibitions and restrictions on what the public is allowed to know’ and that there are more than 1000 suppression orders in place on the media at any one time.
In fact, Australia’s largest media organizations have recently joined forces in a public campaign called Australia’s Right to Know. They claim ‘our ability to report to Australians facts about how they are governed and how our courts are administering justice is being severely hampered’ and suggest that ‘many of the laws and restrictions imposed on the public’s right to know do not look sinister in isolation, but together they form a very worrying situation’. The group, consisting of News Limited, Fairfax Media, the ABC, Sky News, SBS, AAP and more propose to commission a proper independent study of threats to free speech and expression in this country. Sounds good in theory, but what does it really mean for us? With the major media competitors in bed together, how will we ever really know if we’re getting the full story?
As it is the media giants such as Rupert Murdoch already dictate the content and the flavour of much of what we read and see as ‘news’. Papers owned by Murdoch’s News Limited make up around 70% of the national and capital city newspaper market. Worldwide Murdoch’s News Corporation owns more than 175 titles on three continents, publishes 40 million papers a week and dominates the newspaper markets in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. A 2003 survey by Roy Greenslade in the UK’s Guardian (clearly not a Murdoch paper) showed ‘an extraordinary unity of thought’ amongst his newspaper empire about the need to make war on Iraq’. ‘How lucky can Murdoch get! He hires 175 editors and, by remarkable coincidence, they all seem to love the nation which their boss has chosen as his own.’
More recently in the USA Cynthia Cooper reports in fair.org (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) that the issue of impeaching the president remains strangely “absent from the major national media” despite the fact that polls suggest that over a third to one half of the US population favor impeachment.
Could we rely on the major news suppliers to give us the “whole truth” even if they were not so dreadfully hampered by the government’s restrictions? I rather think not.
These days I rarely read newspapers or magazines unless they are part of that rare and wonderful genus – independent media.
Happily our local rag here in Byron Shire, The Echo is one such a paper, the product of a dedicated team of local residents committed to offering an independent voice for the region.
Another locally produced independent magazine is the excellent ‘Kindred’. Calling itself a ‘sustainable family living and natural parenting magazine’ Kindred draws from an internationally diverse team of writers and professionals who intelligently explore issues that impact our children, our families and the planet. It is an excellent publication. You can subscribe to Kindred here.
My third regular read is the New Internationalist. NI is produced by an independent trust working as a financially independent, not-for-profit coop. With over 30 years of publishing under its belt, eight Independent Press Awards for Best International Coverage and more than 75,000 subscribers worldwide, the New Internationalist is renowned for its radical, campaigning stance on a range of world issues. Do check out their website which also offers details of their other publications.