Friday, March 15, 2013

Selling out press for a bit of pork

The spotlight is on Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott to see whether they'll sell out our universal human right to free speech for some off-cuts of regulatory pork.

Julia Gillard and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy appear to be stitching up a political deal to ram their restrictions against a free media through the House of Representatives on a shotgun wedding timeline.

On the same day Conroy announced his plans, Environment Minister Tony Burke announced new coal-seam gas restrictions that enjoy the strong support of the same three independent MPs the government needs to pass its media laws.

Conveniently a new mandatory code on supermarkets to reduce their negotiating power for cheaper prices is set to be announced; it is also supported by the same three men.

From a self-interested electoral perspective, they may think it is in their interests to agree to the grand bargain, but it's a bitter pill to swallow.

All three MPs represent traditionally conservative electorates that value the basic right of free speech.

An IPA-commissioned 2011 Galaxy poll found 85 per cent of Australians outside capital cities thought the right to free speech was more important than being protected against offence.

Restricting free speech doesn't enjoy support outside inner-city cafes and academics where they are considered arcane concepts in comparison to progressive post-modern notions of fair speech and a fair media.

Trading off free speech to appease vested interests against the supermarket sector also comes with a poisonous electoral price tag.  In an interview earlier this week, ACCC chairman Rod Sims conceded supermarket prices we all pay might rise from more regulation.

In expediting the laws, the independents shouldn't fall for the government's dishonest claims.

Conroy has argued for their quick passage because ''the issues are known, people have been part of all of these processes, they've had a chance to make submissions''.

It is the sort of deeply misleading and dishonest statement Conroy would want his new regulator to investigate.

There have been no submissions.  Like the government's response to the Henry tax and Gonski education reviews, Conroy's proposal is not what the Finkelstein or Convergence reviews recommended.

Conroy is avoiding scrutiny about how draconian these regulations are.

To enjoy free media privileges, media outlets will be required to join a Press Council overseen by the statutory public interest media advocate headed up by a government-appointed tsar.

The PIMA will then have the power to approve or reject rules of the Press Council.  If the rules are rejected, the Press Council will have to amend them until the PIMA approves them.

Once media outlets are captured, the PIMA can then incrementally tighten the rules allowing for the slow corrosion of free speech and the capacity to broadcast dissent of government policy.

Katter already appears to have signed up, saying he'll support the media laws, Windsor is being coy and Oakeshott appears to be superficially rejecting the package because of how it will be considered, not from principle.

It won't take much to get him over the line.

Australians aren't fools.  Some may dislike CSG and supermarkets, but they won't easily forget MPs that trade away their human rights for their own short-term political agendas.

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