If you needed any more evidence on how dangerous it would be to give the Australian Press Council legislative “teeth” and power to regulate our free speech, then here it is.
Clearly, [Press Council Chair Julian] Disney has been annoyed by the robustness of the newspapers in this election. The Daily Telegraph has been particularly robust, certainly.
But that’s what happens in a democracy, especially one which values free speech. Sometimes newspapers take editorial lines. When tabloid newspapers take editorial lines they are usually very upfront about it.
Well, the Press Council was not at all pleased by Chris’ comments. They’re very angry with us, and on 6 September they wrote us this angry letter telling us how angry they are (Warning: graphic language). They asked that we publish their letter here on FreedomWatch.
As IPA Executive Director John Roskam replied on 4 October:
I would be absolutely delighted to publish your letter on the IPA’s FreedomWatch website so that Australians can see for themselves how the Press Council threatens one of our most basic freedoms – freedom of speech. That way people will be able to hear both sides of the argument and will be able to make up their own minds.
You can read John’s full email to the Press Council here.
Let me remind you that the Press Council thinks that it is appropriate in a free society for it to dictate to newspapers how they cover elections. When the IPA criticised them for doing so, they complained.
As you will remember, Ray Finkelstein, the chair of the Gillard government’s media inquiry, proposed that a body like the Press Council should be allowed to fine newspapers and journalists and should also be given “statutory incentives” to police the free media. And of course, then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy wanted the Press Council to be backed up and overseen by a government-appointed “public interest media advocate”.
The IPA was proud to play a central role in defeating the Gillard government’s attempts to control the media. This was the 1-page fact sheet that we produced and sent to every MP. If we hadn’t succeeded, the Press Council could today have the legislative teeth they wanted. They wouldn’t just be complaining to FreedomWatch about our coverage – they’d be telling us what we are allowed to write.
As John Roskam pointed out in the Australian Financial Review in March 2012, we believe that individuals are capable of making up their own minds. It seems that others, including the Press Council, disagree. It should not be for the government or their representatives to decide what’s true and what’s false – on behalf of all of us.
Of course what they want to do to the IPA and FreedomWatch is nowhere near as outrageous as their infamous ruling against James Delingpole and The Australian newspaper. Delingpole wrote ($) in The Australian in May 2012 that green energy subsidies are a “kind of government-endorsed Ponzi scheme.” The Press Council ruled that because, in their view, wind farms subsidies don’t literally constitute a Ponzi scheme that therefore a journalist and a newspaper should not be allowed to describe them as such. (Apparently the scheme “does not have an essential characteristic of a Ponzi scheme, namely criminal fraudulence”).
P.S. No doubt we can look forward to another letter from the Press Council complaining that we compared them to the UN.