Ricketson on the Finkelstein report

Ray Finkelstein, who led the Indepedent Media Inquiry, has said he will not talk to the media about his proposal for a statutory authority to regulate the news and opinion. You can see his statement to that effect here.

But in the last few weeks, his co-author, the University of Canberra academic Matthew Ricketson has come out swinging, with a speech at Melbourne University and a column in the Age over the weekend. And he thinks the reporting has been unfair.

Yet it’s not clear Ricketson understands the significance of the proposals in the report he helped write. How else to explain this claim, in his Age column, that his proposal “differs from the existing system in only one key aspect, namely government would fund the News Media Council”?

That’s not true. Not at all.

Yes, the News Media Council would be government funded. But it would also be compulsory. It would have the power to censor. It would regulate every website and newspaper and email. Even FreedomWatch would fall within its regulatory arms. It would have the power to force publication of its own orders – and if anybody refused, they could go to jail. These powers are all new: the Australian Press Council has none of them. If a newspaper disagrees with a Press Council ruling, it can leave. Sure, it might be costly to do so (in reputation, and by increasing the risk of heavier-handed government regulation) but it is not legally compulsory to comply with the council’s decisions.

In his Melbourne University address, Ricketson claimed that the report “categorically ruled out any return to a licensing regime”. That’s not quite true either. As I pointed out in a briefing paper published days after the report was released, Finkelstein doesn’t appear to understand what a licensing regime actually is. In the report, he provides a definition of “licensing” which matches his proposals almost exactly. There is a great deal of conceptual confusion in his report, and licensing is one of the key confusions.


Obama Beats Bush In Assault On Civil Rights

My Sunday Age and Sun-Herald column today discusses how the left have gone silent on Obama’s atrocious civil liberties record.

Obama has undermined more individual rights, and hoarded more presidential power, than Bush ever did. It’s not that he has simply failed to roll back Bush’s anti-terror excesses. Although that is true, as well. It’s that Obama has trumped them. More than 10 years after the September 11 attacks, the White House is still amassing extra security powers.


Convergence: dangerously workable

In the ABC’s Drum, I look at the troubling freedom of speech issues raised by the Convergence Review:

One pregnant sentence in the Convergence Review says, “It is important to note that the current Australian Press Council regime where members can opt out or reduce funding is not an acceptable situation.”

When the review’s draft terms of reference were released in 2010, nobody expected proposals to regulate ‘fairness’ in newspapers would form a core part of the review’s final report.

And that sentence’s claim – that voluntary press regulation is unacceptable, and regulation is necessary – undercuts the review’s repeated assertions that its “underlying approach [is] in favour of deregulation”.

Read more here.


Self-censorship and the press

In the Sydney Morning Herald, the IPA’s James Paterson answers the question: should the media censor the trial of Anders Breivik?

The government certainly shouldn’t. If we value the principle of freedom of speech then it should not be illegal to air Breivik’s trial. But that principle says nothing about what private media companies should do.

The media – like everybody – has a moral duty to exercise restraint, particularly when it comes to relaying views as disgusting as Breivik’s. It is understandable that many people would not want to see Breivik granted a platform for his views. Ultimately, whether to cover Breivik’s trial is an editorial judgement to be made by individual news outlets.

Yet it is not clear what would be gained if the media did decide to collectively suppress the broadcast of his trial.

Read the whole thing here.


Finkelstein recommendations must be rejected completely


“The government and opposition must reject the outrageous attack on freedom of speech recommended by the Chair of the Independent Media Inquiry, Ray Finkelstein,” said Chris Berg, a Research Fellow with free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Mr Berg appeared before the inquiry in November 2011 and is the author of a forthcoming book on freedom of speech.

“The proposals are an unprecedented attack on freedom of speech in Australia.

“The practical effect of Finkelstein’s proposals is to licence newspapers, magazines, and blogs. This is a massive intrusion on what we can read and write.

“His proposed ‘News Media Council’ would be empowered to censor – to force media outlets to remove material from the internet.

“Finkelstein recommends that the print media be regulated in the same way as broadcasting. But similar broadcasting regulations have been used as weapons to try to censor political speech,” said Mr Berg.

“It is shameful that the Media Inquiry has recommended such a massive expansion of regulation. Even ‘news’ websites that have as few as forty visitors a day would have their freedom of speech regulated.

“The government must reject Finkelstein’s proposals out of hand,” said Mr Berg.

The Institute of Public Affairs made a submission to the inquiry.


Coalition’s free speech reform welcome but needs to go further

The Coalition’s announcement that it would reform the Racial Discrimination Act is an important and necessary step towards restoring freedom of speech, but should go further, said Chris Berg, Research Fellow with free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Mr Berg is the author of a forthcoming book on threats to freedom of speech.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” because of a person’s race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis announced that an Abbott government would remove the words “offend” and “insult” from the Act.

“Freedom of speech is our most basic and fundamental right”, said Mr Berg.

“The Coalition’s proposal is welcome but restrictions on opinions which ‘humiliate’ or ‘intimidate’ would remain. Only a full repeal of Section 18C will ensure that a case like Andrew Bolt’s will never occur again in Australia,” said Mr Berg.

The Institute of Public Affairs this week launched the Repeal 18C campaign, which seeks the abolition of this restriction on freedom of speech entirely – freespeech.ipa.org.au.

“The Andrew Bolt case shows that Australians’ freedom to express their sincerely held opinions has been severely limited by Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“In a free and open society we will sometimes be offended, embarrassed, even humiliated by the opinions of others, but that should never be an excuse to use the law to shut them up,” said Mr Berg.

For more information please visit http://freespeech.ipa.org.au


ACMA should be shut down


“The Australian Communications and Media Authority is a threat to freedom of speech and should be shut down,” said Chris Berg, Research Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs, a free market think tank.

“ACMA’s finding against Alan Jones today shows that the regulator is being used for political purposes to attack conservative views.”

The communications regulator found that Alan Jones breached the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice by not making “reasonable efforts” to “present significant viewpoints”.

The investigation was in response to a complaint that the broadcaster described bureaucrats from the NSW Department of Environment as “scumbags that run around preying on productive people”.

“This is an obviously political attack on freedom of speech. It is not up to the government to decide what viewpoints should be broadcast on political matters and in what quantity,” said Mr Berg.

“2GB is a private company and Alan Jones is a private individual. They should not be forced by the government to air views they disagree with.

“Freedom of speech also means freedom not to speak.”

The Federal Government’s Independent Media Inquiry is investigating the possibility of enforcing similar regulations on newspapers.

“This recent finding against Alan Jones underscores how threatening to freedom of speech forcing ‘balance’ can be.

“ACMA’s remaining powers managing the broadcast spectrum should be handed to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. The regulator should then be shut down,” said Mr Berg.