Gina Reinhart is a very wealthy person. She has made her fortune in mining. She is "one of them". Apparently she has views which offend most reasonable, intelligent, and thinking people. She thinks that the environmentalist ideology of man-caused climate change is a bunch of baloney, for example. She is obviously ignorant and therefore to be dismissed. But she is also dangerous, and to be resisted mightily if she comes to close to our patch.
Except that Reinhart has money. She has made a sizeable investment in Fairfax Media which owns the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age--venerable left-wing, pro-climate change, communitarian newspapers. Fairfax, of course, is a declining business. Its commercial strength has sapped away to where that once proud company now resembles a seven stone, white weakling slinking along Bondi Beach in high summer.
Overnight the Chattering Classes have expressed both outrage and alarm that one so unfit as Reinhart should actually own major newspapers in Australia (and New Zealand, for that matter). What on earth could they mean? Of course they mean that "fitness" has to do with supporting, representing, framing the news, and propounding views that are condign with what the Chattering Classes consider to be the truth. The idea that the Sydney Morning Herald may become a green-sceptical newspaper is a bridge too far.
But, of course, its not PC to actually say that out loud and in public. Instead, one has to conjure a smokescreen. And, of course, there is one readily at hand. Gina Reinhart's ownership of Fairfax Media would apparently not be in the public interest. That settles it then.
It turns out that the public interest is a smokescreen for views and acts that one happens to approve of. Because one happens to think a certain way, and one believes one's way is the right way, it follows that the views and positions one approves must be in the wider, public interest of everyone else as well.
Richard Ackland, writing in the said Sydney Morning Herald, explains just how public interest is a specious crock.
This is getting decidedly whacky. Yesterday's Australian Financial Review reported an exciting new thought bubble from Canberra, saying ''federal cabinet is set to approve and present to Parliament a tough public interest test for media ownership''. The core ingredient behind the sudden propulsion of this idea must be that both Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch are unsuitable people to run newspapers. The faith politicians have in such an amorphous concept as ''the public interest'' is unbelievably touching. . . .
''The public interest'' is a phrase sprinkled through legislation with gay abandon. It sounds democratic and noble, but at the end of the rainbow it has to be interpreted by a judge, or a cluster of judges - a recipe for uncertainty, because the judges themselves are uncertain.
Already in legislation the phrase competes with itself. For instance, in the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act, a court can suppress something if it is in the public interest and that public interest outweighs the public interest in open justice. It's almost a foregone conclusion as to which ''public interest'' will win in that contest.
The Defamation Act starts off with some high-flown sentiment about not placing unreasonable limits on ''publication and discussion of matters of public interest''. It does not amount to a hill of beans.