See this, folks? It’s a picture of democracy

Sunday Telegraph from cover: click to embiggenThere’s plenty of feels clogging the intertubes this morning about the front page of Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph (pictured). “AUSTRALIA NEEDS TONY,” it says. Oh this is so terrible! It’s a threat to democracy, whaaa whaaa whaaaaaa!

No, kids, look at it more closely. This is a picture of democracy. Suck it up.

Or, if you don’t like it, stop your whining, get off your arse, and do something about it.

Sure, the Murdoch newspapers’ ability to endorse a particular candidate on their front pages, effectively plastering a party-political poster onto newsagents and breakfast tables across the nation, gives that candidate a huge advantage.

Sure, if you don’t want that candidate to win, then this is a bit of a blow to your dreams.

But how about thinking through the implications of what you’re actually suggesting before you spend the whole day whining about how “undemocratic” this is?

For a start, why do you imagine that this, Murdoch’s alleged influence, is why Labor can’t win? Have you not considered that Labor itself has some sort of role to play in the process? By all accounts, they’ve been playing a pretty shit game. But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.

As Mark Newton tweeted a short time ago, your argument seems to be “All we need to do is reduce Murdoch’s influence and ALP will win.” That’s (a) antidemocratic, and (b) magical thinking.

“Let’s adjust media censorship laws specifically to improve the chances of my favourite candidate winning, because democracy,” he said.

You seem to be assuming that, despite the hundreds or thousands of people involved in the production of these newspapers and other media operations, they represent solely the opinion of one man, and him alone. You seem to discount the happy participation of all the others.

And even if it were solely Murdoch’s opinion, you seem to be wanting to remove his right to free speech because his opinion is different from yours, and you’re jealous because more people read his opinion that yours.

Diddums.

Do you really think that expressing opinions is some zero-sum game? That because Murdoch, or anyone else, has loudly expressed their opinion, that you’re somehow silenced? Then you’re an idiot. Stop whining, start influencing. And don’t whinge that Murdoch has so much power that it’s unfair and you can’t catch up, because I’m pretty sure Murdoch didn’t create his media empire by whining.

Sure, he had a head start, inheriting a ratty little provincial afternoon tabloid called The News. But you’ve got the internet at your fingertips, you can start organising, and try to counter the opinion you don’t like — because persuading and organising is precisely what politics is about, and in a democracy anyone can play.

Oh? That’s all too hard? Waaa! That’ll take ages. Waaa waaa waaaaaa! You just want to rub your tummy and have the Magic Democracy Fairy appear in a burst of sparkly how-to-vote cards and fix it all for you?

OK, let’s do that. Let’s have the Magic Democracy Fairy take away Murdoch’s influence. “Poof!”, it goes. Now what? Who’s next down the line? Take away their freedom of speech too? And the next? And the next one after that?

In terms of someone’s perceived influence being greater than yours, just how small must the margin be before you’ll allow them their freedom to express a view different from your own? Clearly-stated policies, or GTFO.

[Note to the hard of thinking: If you think this is somehow written in support of Tony Abbott, you really are an arsehat.]

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14 comments

  1. Milorad Ivovic’s avatar

    Until we actually have a right to free speech in this country there’s no point rabbiting on about protecting it.

    Two recent high court cases unlikely to garner much sympathy, but which are both less troubling than Murdoch’s involvement are here and here, but the truly offensive and deeply troubling case is this one.

    Citizens in this country don’t have the right to be “offensive”, or dare I say even particularly truthful, lest they step on someone’s toes and invite government support in curtailing their right to speak, but Murdoch can associate politicians with Hitler routinely without so much as a legal peep because railing against him would be the kind of large-scale uncomfortable test case the government can’t afford.

    That doesn’t stop them going after the rest of us and that last case I linked is a prime example.

    I accept your premise and your challenge to Australians who would be inclined to disagree with Murdoch, but I do not accept that the legal landscape of this country affords them that permission, unless they are already too big of a target.

    1. Milorad Ivovic’s avatar

      I’d like to add that I’m not actually one of those who would seek to silence Murdoch, it’s mostly the assumption that we’re all free to engage in brutal political discourse that I find unsupportable.

    2. TJ’s avatar

      During your article you argue: “you’ve got the internet at your fingertips, you can start organising, and try to counter the opinion you don’t like”. Surely the act of “clogging the intertubes this morning” is doing exactly that. The Telegraph makes an article that thousands of people don’t like, so thousands of people have gone online and argued against it. They have made their point to a level that you feel a whole new article needs to be written based on the argument they made.

      1. Mark Newton’s avatar

        Sounds like everything is working fine then. Carry on.

        – mark

      2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

        @Milorad Ivovic: I agree completely about Australia’s lack of a guaranteed right to freedom of speech, and it’s something I’ve written about before. My 2007 post “Let’s just write that down… comes to mind.

        TJ: Yes, but only up to a point. The “arguing against” has, by and large, been little more than complaining and a bit of mockery. I very much doubt that that’s how you persuade people, though it certainly serves an important tribal bonding task.

        There’s a bunch of stages beyond that before you’ve got a coherent political, and I don’t see that happening. Willing to be proved wrong.

      3. Wolfcat’s avatar

        But I am still working out which Twibbon to use to create my viral subtweet campaign to overthrow the Abbott government.

      4. elissaf’s avatar

        You can’t see the difference between limiting Capital’s influence and a person’s freedom of speech?

        You, sir, are an idiot.

      5. Stilgherrian’s avatar

        @elissaf: Point gloriously missed. The case hasn’t been made that “Capital” (as some nebulous abstract bogeything) has too much influence, let alone that Murdoch’s media outlets have reached that point. Apart, that is, from some feelpinion that it’s all so unfair.

        But let’s assume they have. What mechanism are you suggesting for limiting that influence that isn’t an arbitrary rule designed to work against today’s object of worry? And, to repeat the question in the last paragraph, where are you wanting to draw the line?

        1. Milorad Ivovic’s avatar

          Limiting ownership would have been a nice idea early on, as even Murdoch himself suggested diversity of press is the key to balanced reporting and an average of truth in journalism. Of course this was before he became a cantankerous megalomaniac. You can see him talk about that at the end of Episode 30 of Media Watch. A real check-mate of a clip from the Media Watch guys.

          Can’t force him to sell now, but can certainly put barriers in place from here on in which would affect the sale of media properties going forward.

          An unregulated free press really doesn’t stay free very long. It may not be government controlled, but overwhelmingly controlled by a single megacorp is a long way from the spirit of what free press stands for. Corporations with such blanket coverage and no geographic barriers were impossible to imagine not that long ago. All we reasonable folk are asking is that the law catch up to the reality of megacorps with limitless reach and protect the spirit of press freedom.

          Don’t tell anyone what they can and can’t print, just make sure that there are more of them out there with their disparate agendas. If their agendas should overlap occasionally, we’ll suck it in, but the beauty of it is that it’s damn near impossible to get (say) four or five competing companies to agree on much of anything at all.

          1. Mark Newton’s avatar

            There’s a lot of woolly-thinking in this area.

            We’ve had media ownership laws now for, what, at least 30 years? Seems like they haven’t worked. We tweak them from time to time and they still don’t work. It seems to me that with 30 years of experience, if media ownership laws were going to do anything they’d have done it by now, and we should be total experts at regulating media.

            But no. It appears that they don’t actually work. Yet they’re waved around like some kind of religious totem, as the first port of call whenever da meedja needs dealing with. “We’d never want to control the press,” politicians say, “but we need strong media ownership laws.” Sounds like poppycock.

            There seems to be no argument that if I publish a leaflet or a blog I should be able to advocate for almost any political position I like. And, if I’m a journalist, I could take an opinion piece and dress it up to look like serious news, and stuff it into my neighbors’ letterboxes or email it to all and sundry. That’s the entire purpose of free speech: To enable people like you and me to advocate for political views, and attempt to change opinions to gain support for them.

            For one reason or another, there also seems to be a view that says if you’re as rich as Rupert Murdoch, different rules should apply: You can’t just write any ol’ opinion, and you certainly can’t portray your opinion as news.

            So where’s the line? At what point does one become too rich to exercise the right to craft words to influence political opinion?

            (and why are we even arguing about this? Newspapers, for heavens’ sake. They’ll all be gone in ten years anyway!)

            – mark

            1. Milorad Ivovic’s avatar

              Does taking a pejorative stance ever actually advance your argument? If so, I’d really like to be you. I imagine that would make professional life a lot easier. Among intelligent people I really don’t think adding retard emphasis encourages deee-sku-shun.

              As for wooly thinking, I’m inclined to agree. There’s a lack of specificity in the argument because it would require a great deal of analysis to implement something which was equitable, not particularly restrictive and yet still stood a chance at being effective.

              I have the benefit of knowing who you are, which puts you at a disadvantage in this instance, because I know that you’re rational and clever enough to know better than to suggest there’s some kind of relationship between having 30 year old laws, and those laws being at all effective, or even particularly carefully considered.

              In this case, it’s an even more ludicrous suggestion since this area is subject to myriad back-room deals and lobbying. The thought that “they’d have done it by now” is laughable, since it relies on a staggering amount of assumption, chief being that any sitting government has actually wanted to fix the problem (rather than just bitch about it). The ownership laws we’ve ‘perfected’ still allow for some 65% market share to be in the hands of a single owner. They still allow for a commercial duopoly of television (cable included). They’re obviously not even close to well-implemented.

              The remainder of your points after the word “poppycock” address arguments I vehemently disagree with. They all seek to limit the scope or mode of communication of people once they reach a certain level of success.

              My argument is only that this level of success should be impossible. I can’t say I’ve thought about exactly where the line should be in any great detail, but I think a 25% ownership cap seems reasonable at first glance. I’d be happy to nut that out in more detail, if you’ll withhold the pejorative intonation.

              There’s no requirement for media to be particularly high-budget glossy enterprises in order to disseminate news which means gaps in ownership levels can be met at fairly reasonable costs by new entrants. Barriers to entry are much lower now as you’re well aware. The reason to argue about this is precisely because of this transitional phase. Words aren’t going away. Companies who seek to control words aren’t going away either. Only the paper is going away.

              Perhaps with 100% electronic distribution the problem goes away by itself, but even if that’s the case, there’s no harm in setting limits beyond which diversity cannot cannibalise itself.

            2. bacaren’s avatar

              This blog post has been written in support of Tony Abbott. I just ran the entire text through a subliminal message extractor and the subliminal message says: “Vote Liberal on Sep 7 while eating a doughnut”. What’s the deal with the doughnut?

            3. shaun’s avatar

              Wow! i didn’t think a newspaper could tell the people with an IQ less than 95 who to vote for. Lets be honest, most people (IQ irrelevant) don’t follow politics so its so HELPFUL of the telegraph to make it easier for us idiot Australians. Can not wait to have “Australia’s most dangerous politician” in power.

            4. Stilgherrian’s avatar

              Thanks for the discussion on this one, folks. Much appreciated, even if I didn’t get much time to take part.

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