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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Media Controls

It's OK When The Good Guys Want It

One would have thought that folk would be viscerally reactive to any proposal to extend state power and control.  After all New Zealand participated in two World Wars ostensibly to defend against state tyrannies of various kinds.  We have witnessed in our recent past the death of approximately one hundred million people throughout the twentieth century as a result of state power, oppression, and vicious persecution of citizens and people the State did not like.

Yet the West remains remarkably sanguine about the powers of the State.  The reasons for this myopia are probably facile.  "We won the wars, so states becoming bloody and tyrannical applies to those who were defeated, not our government.  We and our government are the good guys."  Or, "our government would never become tyrannical: we are a democracy."  Or, "Western governments are devoted to protecting the rights of the poor and underprivileged; they are antipathetic to those tyrants that killed millions." 

Meanwhile whilst sleeping peacefully in our beds, the powers of Western government have grown exponentially: we respond by nodding peacefully in our slumbers.  But every now and again a litmus issue arises and we see just how tenuous our freedoms have become.
  At present, the issue of the day is press freedom: the country, Britain.  In that place clearly there has been a problem with the media: they have acted illegally and irresponsibly, deploying great powers and influence to harm others.  The working assumption is that the government will "sort it out"--because that's what we have all come to expect and require of government.  That is what soft-despotism is all about.

So, Lord Leveson investigates and recommends that a statutory body be appointed to "oversee" the self-regulation of the press.  Most people yawn and say, "Of course.  Our benign government regulates us citzens,  why not the media?"  People have become very familiar with encroaching controls on free speech in Britain: laws against hate-speech, against giving offense, against wearing religious emblems in public (in the name of human rights and protecting minorities, of course).  So why not the media?  Why, indeed. 

A society which accepts the state's encroaching restrictions upon the speech of its citizens will be ill-equipped to resist burgeoning state controls over the media.  The two are yoked together.  Demonise and outlaw one; the same will follow for the other. 

In the meantime, here are a couple of reflections on the matter.  The first from Liberty Scott who argues that there is more than enough "law on the books" to prosecute errant media in the UK.  The problem is that the state has failed to use the law available. 

What you need to know about Leveson

  1. Phone hacking is already illegal in the UK.
  2. Attempting to corrupt a public official is illegal.
  3. Stalking was made a crime in the UK a week ago.
  4. Breaking and entering private property in the UK is already illegal.
  5. The UK has one of the world's toughest defamation laws, which are already blamed for suppressing people speaking up about allegations of sexual abuse by public figures.
  6. In short, the vile events presented in evidence were, in most instances, already illegal.
So consider, for a moment, why new laws and a new regulator is needed to enforce that which the Police have been lax to enforce now.
For the present, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron has rejected the recommendation that the government set up a Big Brother body to stand over media self-regulation.  But this has provoked outrage and splenetic expatiation.  This from Sean Plunkett, a New Zealand journalist:
British Prime Minister David Cameron is copping a mountain of flak for his refusal to implement the major recommendations of the Leveson inquiry into the phone hacking and skulduggery practised by many members of the British media. Justice Leveson wants a new statutory body to oversee a new independent press regulator which would supposedly be an independent check against the unethical and in many cases illegal activities undertaken by British hacks and sanctioned by their bosses.

A group called "Hacked Off" which represents many of the "victims" of phone hacking and journalistic malfeasance claims Mr Cameron's refusal to implement the recommendations is a massive moral and political failure and has launched a petition to push for a cross party consensus to implement Lord Leveson's ideas.
Turning to the media in New Zealand, Plunkett goes on to acknowledge most candidly that bias exists in the New Zealand media:
This isn't to say there is no bias in New Zealand media. There most certainly is at an individual and institutional level. Most often, it is unconscious or unwitting, incredibly hard to positively identify and virtually impossible to eradicate. 
We have known about this for a long time.  But here is the rub: that bias in part represents a thorough going commitment to the modern soft-despotic role of the state and to the representation of secular materialism as the only smart way to go.  Christians are portrayed in the media as intolerant  maniacal cultists or as a gaggle of geriatric geese--unless, of course, they are advocating more state appropriation of citizens' property to redistribute to others, whereupon they are portrayed as enlightened and compassionate.  It is precisely this bias which had led the media to be both complaisant and compliant when the Human Rights Commission has sought to extend state control over liberties of speech and expression of private citizens.  Hate speech is, well, hateful, non? 

But if you cheer lead for the one, the other will inevitably follow.  Restrict the freedom of speech of individuals and restrictions upon the media will inevitably come to pass.  It's a connection the media, looking at the world through its cataract of creeping soft-despotism, all too often fail to see. 

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