Public or Political Interest?

Diversity of opinion is the lifeblood of democracy – at least that’s what ‘media regulator in chief’ and Gillard Government minister Stephen Conroy claims.

And yet, despite his rhetoric about freedom of opinion, he has just launched a proposal to increase regulation of media interests. It’s a half-baked policy that threatens freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

In the government’s typically belligerent fashion, the propaganda minister has threatened that if his package is not passed in full by the end of next week he will take his bat and ball and go home! Notwithstanding the fact that we’d all be better off if everyone in this government decided to ‘go home’ until September 14, petulant ultimatums aren’t how public policy should be made.

The cornerstone of the government’s bill is deemed the ‘public interest test’. Given that we already have laws that protect diversity of voices, promote competition and prevent market concentration, it begs the question: what additional interference is Senator Conroy proposing?

One might also question the ‘public interest’ of anything this government has proposed. Massive waste of taxpayers’ money, lethal policies, falsehoods and failures have characterised most of this government’s actions. It’s clear that political interest, rather than public interest, has been the overriding consideration of the Labor caucus.

It is worth recalling that these proposals came from demands by the Australian Greens for an inquiry into the ‘hate media’. Naturally, this definition applied to those sections of the press who questioned the agenda of the Labor/Greens alliance.

The Finkelstein inquiry, as it came to be known, produced a report that proposed smashing the iron fist of totalitarianism on publishing opinion. Even the writers of popular blogs were identified as falling under the rigours of government approval or sanction.

I can’t imagine Conroy and Co approving any of the weekly missives that are published on this website! The very idea that they – or any of their agents – could be required to do so is a truly alarming prospect.

Right now it seems we are a long way from that proposal, although it was a suggestion of the government inquiry that has never been rejected. This nebulous ‘public interest test’ could herald the start of a journey down the road that Finkelstein proposed.

If the government is serious about increasing diversity of opinion in the press, it would reconsider the resources it allocates to the ABC, whose non-commercial objectives and continuing encroachment into the digital space is undermining the operations of private media organisations in Australia.

That won’t happen of course, at least not while the ABC plays a sympathetic line to the government agenda.

However, any encroachment into our cherished freedoms of thought, opinion and speech by government is something to be very worried about; especially when it is put forward under the guise of the ‘public interest’.

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